Helping kids understand and cope with feeling of sadness
Storyberries offers free children's books and parenting tips to help kids develop the vital skill of being able to understand and cope with sadness.
Sadness is one of the basic emotions, along with fear, anger, joy, and surprise.. None of us are exempt from feeling sad, including our children. The loss of a loved one, an unforeseen circumstance or a missed opportunity can all leave us feeling sad. Managing emotions can be especially hard for children if they can’t express how they are feeling. Here we learn some common manifestations of sadness in children, and ways in which we can help them to work through their feelings.
As it is, we live in a culture that does not support pain. If from a very young age, we were taught to express and validate all the different shades of emotion, we would have greater capacity to face sadness without falling into depression, and have a better toolbox to face anger without becoming violent.
When children feel sad they may be irritable, agitated, aggressive or hyperactive. On the other hand they may seem discouraged, withdrawn or reluctant to participate in activities that previously gave them pleasure. They may not want to join in a game, or they may give up very easily, even when encountering the least difficulty. We may notice them sleeping less or much more than usual, or see sudden changes in eating habits such as a loss of appetite.
Storyberries offers practical suggestions for helping children cope with sadness, as well as free online children’s books about different emotions, including sadness.
Naming emotionsHelping children identify their emotions by naming the emotions, and giving words for how they feel: “I understand that you feel sad …” or, “”This situation must have made you feel bad.”
Little by little children can be helped to recognize that there are words for what they are feeling, and that their feelings can be named and made sense of. This helps children to organise their experiences in their minds.
It’s okay to not feel okayMaking it okay to feel sad: we can explain that although sadness doesn’t feel good, it is normal to feel it from time to time, and that everyone, without exception, feels like this when they lose something, when they feel lonely or rejected, when they feel like they’ve done something wrong, or when something unpleasant happens.
Expressing how we feel in healthy waysExpressing our own emotions in healthy ways so children can copy us: instead of hiding our feelings, phrases like: “I feel angry about what you did”, “Let’s talk another time, I am very upset …” or “I feel sad about the situation” are very powerful. In this way we show sadness to be a passing emotion, a temporary state of mind that does not go beyond a day or two at the most.
Encouraging kids to talkHelping kids to identify negative thoughts. Storybooks are a really good way to discuss feelings, and so too is drawing. Listening and encouraging children to express their sadness and fears allows them to understand that we are all vulnerable, and that feeling sad or afraid does not equate to being weak.
Sadness also shows up in different ways in children, so when confronted with undesirable or unexpected behaviour, it helps if we can maintain a listening attitude. This allows us space to think, and to find out what is happening.
Validating and empoweringValidate feelings by recognising the sadness as real, and avoid downplaying (with phrases like “come on, this is nothing, it is just nonsense, do not get like that”, “go on, you’re whining again”, or “quit now.”)
Help find a solution: most problems have a solution, so as parents we can try to guide the child back to a state of serenity and happiness.
Resourcing kids for the futureWhen we are able to recognize the sadness that our kids face, and when we make it easier for them to express what they feel, we help to calm and lessen the heavy feeling. Doing so also helps children develop their own resources for managing emotions and staying calm, which can help them in the future.
Please note that if a child continues to seem very unhappy, to behave in ways that are challenging or uncharacteristic, or if you are still worried, it’s a good idea to seek professional help.
Mama Chick’s New Easter HatWhen Mama Chick feels sad, her children help to brighten her day. As they look around the farmyard to find beautiful flowers to decorate her hat, their show of love and care makes everyone feel happy.
Ollie is ScaredIn this story Ollie feels sad because he is afraid of being bullied at school. His mum helps him to talk about his feelings..Then they meet his teacher and together they come up with a good plan that helps all the children.
The LetterOften sadness is accompanied by other feelings such as hurt, anger or frustration. It can be hard for children to express how they feel, especially when the sadness involves people they love. In this beautifully written and illustrated story, Julia finds a way to express her sadness about her parents’ separation, by writing them a letter.
Who Stole Bhaiya’s Smile?Bhaiya has been feeling the weight of sadness for so long, it’s become a depression. For Bhaiya it feels like he has a heavy monster on his back. Bhaiya’s family and friends all want to get rid of the monster so they can see Bhaiya smile again, but it isn’t that easy. In time, they learn to accept and welcome Bhaiya exactly as he is, and then his feeling of sadness starts to lift.
Article by Luzmery M. Romero Gamboa and Fleur Rodgers
Luzmery works in the area of clinical psychology as a psychotherapist for children, adolescents and families. Since 2016, she has run a Psychological Center in Venezuela called Psicoluz. She offers workshop facilitations to parents, is involved in recreational activities for children, and has been working as a freelancer since 2017 performing online psychotherapy.
Fleur is a meditation teacher in France and uses a compassion and loving-kindness based approach to meditation and slow-minded living. Fleur posts regularly to Instagram @rodgers.fleur . She has two children, is a qualified teacher in adult education and is the founder of Timeouttobreathe.com