Toddler Depression?

Monday was our first full day at the park, and we decided since we indulged in a late night by shutting down Magic Kingdom the night before that we would all sleep in Monday morning, and then take things from there.   Finally about 9:30 I had to start rounding up the troops, pulling the kiddos and my hubby out of bed.  I had to ask B 6 times to dress himself, and he just kept ending up staring into space at a different point of the hotel room.  Finally dressed he says, “I need medicine, I don’t feel good.”

“What kind of don’t feel good?”

He just stares at me as if I haven’t just asked him a question.

“What kind of don’t feel good B?”

Still a blank stare.

“B, I’m asking you a question, I can’t help you if you don’t use your words.”  It seems this trip that B refuses to speak about anything.  And when he does he is so soft I cannot hear him at all. I do not know if his confidence level has dropped in communication since he started speech therapy, or if perhaps he is just depressed.

Finally he answers, “Like a coughing and stuff.”

I have yet to hear him cough this entire trip.  “You mean like allergies, like a stuffy nose?”

Again a blank stare.

“I’ll give you a Claritin when dad is out of the shower, I’m unsure of where he packed it.” I offer as I continue to gather a travel bag for the park, and B continues to stare as if the conversation never happened, pensive, staring at the wall.

I step out to the car when my husband comes out of the shower on the phone to grab my hair brush, and then when I return I hear retching coming from behind a closed bathroom door.  I run to the bathroom door, “B are you throwing up?”

“No,” he lies as I open the door anyway to observe his leaning over the toilet seat.

“Oh B,”  I felt terrible.

The hubby kindly cleaned off the toilet seat as B possesses not the best of focus to aim, and B seemed to have a new spark of life in him once that was through.  We accounted it to lack of sleep, and traumatic changes.

We started our morning with the Magic Kingdom, ofcourse the ride in on the bus was an absolute nightmare with the incredible amount of traffic pulling in.  I had hoped leaving later would save us from dealing with the traffic jam, but alas that plan backfired.

Aislyn recognized the park immediately as we approached the gates, and demanded her Minnie Mouse “hat” (or headband as the rest of the world would call it).  She sang out, “Mickey, castle, Disney!”  My daughter who never speaks more than two words a day, and the sight of those front gates inspire a slew of vocabulary equating to two weeks worth of speech!  It was a glorious feeling as a mother to see my daughter so excited, and then I look over at B who again looks as if this is the last place on Earth he wants to be, despite the preceding weeks of discussing how much he wanted to be here.

Now, here we are and he has yet to smile, and it’s difficult to watch, and quite honestly on a selfish note kind of a let down after all the effort and funds in catering this entire week around his interests.  I feel terrible about it, but each time we try to excite him, “We are going to see the pirates!”  B’s Response: “K”.  “We are going to ride Peter Pan.”  B’s Response “K”.  It’s not so much the “K”, as the tone and his lack of emotion altogether in his face, much like he has aged from five year old to teenager since last summer.  I call for him “B, can you…”  and he is quick to retort with that teenage sass flare, “what?”  Everything seems to be of total disinterest to him, what five year old shows no excitement to the fireworks or his favorite characters?

The hubs suggested next time not bringing our children unless they are at least three, but it seems Aislyn is far more interested in any of this than B is.

The only conversation he shows compassion and feeling in is when he is asking to stay with us, to not have to go back home.  “Why are you sending me back, can’t I please stay?”

This is a loaded question, you can’t answer in a way that would make the other parent seem selfish, or even a bad choice, but at the same time you don’t want your child to feel unloved or unwanted.  Josh handles this amazingly each time, “You know I love you buddy, and that we would love to have you here all the time, but for now you need to go back to where you have school, and as soon as it is out you can come back!”

Then ofcourse that is followed with, “but why don’t I get a long time with you?  Why do you always send me back so soon?”

Again, it’s a tricky tap dance, “You will get to spend an entire three months with us over summer buddy, we will have lots of fun then I promise.”

This seems to satisfy him for a moment, but the melancholy continues.  He lumbers around quite literally as if he carries a penance of 20 bricks per shoulder.  His entire body folds in on itself as he slowly meanders about, his eyes as if they are about to burst into tears, and the tips of his mouth in a pout of distaste.  “Are you having fun at all,” we ask.


“You sure look sad, what’s wrong.”

“I’m not sad, I’m happy.”

“Can you smile.”

And of course when he smiles it looks as if it hurts.  Hurts him so badly that he has to shut his eyes to withstand the pain.  Perhaps a play therapy session or two will find its way into our itinerary this summer.  I once had a counselor who suggested that he may have depression.  I had never thought of a depressed toddler, but with such a traumatic situation that he has suffered through since he was two and the on going divide of being torn away from his sister, and then his mom, and then his dad it just all becomes too much on him emotionally.

Any other step-parents, separate parents witness similar attributes?  Am I off base completely considering play therapy?


8 Comments Add yours

  1. petuniapeg says:

    Have been dealing w this for YEARS, and now witness to my nephew going through it. If i knew then what I know now, for my sd. Sake, I’d never have married her father. Im convinced it would be no different with any woman. I’ve read just about everything I can get my hands on about step parenting, and split custody. It seems remarriage to a woman with kids, or having kids is an instant road to insecurity. Wish I had answers. All I have to go on Is the respect I have for my dad, who saw us once a week all day, but kept his wife and her kids pretty much seperate from our time from the beginning. He never tried to “blend” us. Took me 20 years to even realize this.


    1. B loves his baby sister (my daughter) to an insane degree. He calls her constantly, wants to spend every waking moment with her. In fact, the only time he is genuinely smiling it’s at her. The difficulty is the distance, every exchange is so traumatic since it is always for months at a time in either direction and five states apart. The guilt eats at him for being happy away from his mom who makes sure he understands that he is all she has and she is in a constant state of distress without him.


  2. Wow….I read this and it’s incredibly similar to a vacation experience we had a few years ago. My step-daughter would waiver between moments of seeming to really enjoy herself to bizarre breakdowns, mostly occurring around meals where she would claim her head hurt, or her stomach hurt, or her finger hurt. She wouldn’t eat to the extent she would hide food in her napkin or throw it on the floor when she thought no one was watching….it was sad and a little scary and also kind of infuriating because this was supposed to be a fun vacation and a good memory. My husband and I talked to our therapist afterward and she suggested SD may have been struggling with some mixed emotions around homesickness, coupled with guilt for wanting to have fun and wanting to be there, anxiety about returning home, anxiety about not wanting her mother to feel bad (BM (bio-mom) is the queen of subtle guilt trips and passive aggressive behavior) etc., etc., etc. Way too much for a little one to have to juggle….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ya, the guilt trips is a BM’s M.O. It breaks my heart when I hear B say, “My mommy is so sad because I’m gone.” I make a point when he asks, “will you be sad I’m gone?” to respond with something that puts absolutely no responsibility on him but yet let’s him know he is important to us, “I will miss you, but I’m super excited you are going to get to spend some great fun times with your mom, and we will see you again soon, I promise!”

      The physical responses to the emotional aspects are alarming, and as he gets older it actually seems to be growing worse instead of better. I am definitely getting him into play therapy this summer.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We do the same thing….so tough….especially when so young! That’s a lot to lay on a kid.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. It is terrible to watch a little one not able to access their fun. When it happens here, I feel so helpless. Thankfully in our world it is happening less and less often. Play therapy can be very helpful when there is a theme of the child displaying the behaviour you describe, or even if you are seeing anger, poor concentration, change in appetite, complaints of stomach aches or other ailments that don’t have a specific or obvious cause. All of those are signs that something is up emotionally and play therapy is often an excellent medium to help the child to unpack, understand and re-contextify his emotions. It has helped in our case, and we would not hesitate to use it again if the situation required it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for that. I know I went as a child after losing my father and it did wonders for me, so I’m hoping the same for him.

      Liked by 1 person

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