A recent New York Times article by Pamela Paul, “Can Preschoolers Be Depressed?,” raised a number of points relevant to parenting across the span of our children’s development.
While identifying depression in preschool age children is presented as something newly emerging, Harry Harlow identified failure to thrive in monkeys, and later observed it in human babies—which looks an awful lot like depression, at least to me.
Nevertheless, some of the key issues that Paul’s article highlights have to do with our increasing understanding about the brain’s plasticity, especially at very young ages. The same open-brainness that makes early intervention with autistic kids an optimal treatment approach leads researchers to hypothesize that early intervention with depressed kids may prove equally important.
Although a negative environment can contribute to kids getting depressed, many kids of depressed, or otherwise limited, parents do not themselves get depressed (in other words, parents can mess us up, but depression is far from always their fault, at least not counting genes). Guilt rarely helps anyway but, unfortunately, there are many cases of perfectly nurturing parents providing loving environments in which even very young children sometimes become rather melancholy and lacking in exuberance.