Dealing with your sad child can be difficult. He doesn’t always understand the emotions he’s going through. Use these tips to help your child define and go through sadness.
We forget we learn about our feelings.
Babies aren’t born with the understanding or verbal ability to express emotions. When faced with difficult feelings, children may not always express them as well as we do.
And that’s when we end up with tantrums, confusing behavior, or kids who refuse to talk or communicate.
6 tips for dealing a sad child
Sadness happens for many reasons. Maybe he feels like he did something wrong, or he’s not spending enough time with you. He got hurt, lost a special item or didn’t get to do what he wants.
What can you do to help your sad child?
Label the emotion
Words are powerful—the simple act of labeling emotions can help your child claim control over his sadness.
He may not be able to articulate the weird sensations of feeling his heart clench, or the desire to be by himself rather than doing fun things. To label and say, “It looks like you’re feeling sad,” can help him identify his sadness and reassure him he’s not alone in feeling this way.
With labeling his emotions, your child will also understand that his feelings don’t define him. He knows he can feel sad without fearing that he’ll be a sad boy all the time. He also won’t assume he’s a bad person because he doesn’t feel happy right at the moment, and will understand that emotions come and go and don’t last forever.
Another benefit of labeling emotions? Doing so tells your child you love him no matter what emotions he happens to feel. That you’ll never withhold your love and affection because he isn’t his usual chipper self, or that he has to be happy just to get your attention.
Don’t dismiss your child’s sadness
My son and I were walking home from school when he accidentally dropped a leaf as we were crossing the street. “We’ll get more,” I said. I was about to add, “It’s just a leaf,” when I realized that would dismiss his feelings.
We don’t dismiss major losses like death, divorce, or a fight with a friend. It’s easy to think a broken toy or a forgotten leaf can cause sadness too, but it can. What seems silly to us can feel like genuine sadness to our kids. Brushing aside your child’s sadness makes him feel unimportant, as if they aren’t as valid as someone else’s.
Instead, acknowledge his sadness without judging it as petty or insignificant. Admit that the feeling exists, even if it’s over a dropped leaf.
And listen without judging. This helps build the kind of relationship with your child where he can tell you “petty” things like a fallen leaf without feeling like you’ll brush it aside. In fact, thank him for telling you how he feels, so he knows you support him no matter what.
Explain that sadness is normal
Your child may think he’s the only one who feels sadness and may be anxious about it. Instead, explain that everyone—including you—feels sad for many reasons. The more you explain how common sadness is, the less he’ll feel isolated and alone. Yes, it’s a difficult emotion, but one we all feel.
Give an example of when you felt sad. You might share a recent disappointment you had, or even one you felt when you were a child like him. Not only will he know that everyone feels sad, but they do so throughout their lives. It may seem dire, but it can reassure him that his feelings are normal. Just as you and others cope with it, so too can he.
Remind your child that sadness will pass
When we feel sad, it can seem like it’ll never end. Think back to a heartbreak or loss, or even the newborn months when there didn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel. The heightened physical sensations don’t help either, from a clenched stomach to tense muscles.
But, as all emotions do, sadness will pass. Remind your child that sadness doesn’t last forever—that he’ll feel happy again. Think of emotions as seasons, and as all seasons do, they come and go, whether happy or difficult.
Don’t rush him out of his feelings
One of the biggest parenting mistakes we make dealing with a sad child is trying to rush our kids out of their feelings. Understandably so—we don’t want our kids to feel down, and sometimes, witnessing their difficult emotions is hard for us as well. It’s much easier to spend time with our kids when they’re happy than when they feel sad.
But rushing him out of his feelings actually delays or suppresses the emotions that need to pass. Yes, there are ways to ease the feelings along, but trying to get it out of the way only makes it linger and doesn’t address the initial problem.
As tempting as it is to distract, coerce or even threaten your child away his sadness, don’t. Give him space to sort and experience his feelings. As difficult as it is to feel sad, it’s these moments that can teach your child so much, so long as you give him the opportunity to learn from them.
Offer ways to ease out of sadness
While you don’t want to rush him out of his feelings, you can provide different ways for him not to feel sad anymore.
Give him a warm hug and soothe him through kisses and reassuring words. Listen without judging, and avoid belittling the things he’s crying about. Instead of saying “It’s just a leaf, we can always get another one,” simply say, “You feel sad you lost that leaf, don’t you? You really grew fond of it and don’t like that it’s gone.”
Then, once he’s ready, suggest different ways he can cope with sadness, such as asking him if he wants to talk about it, taking a walk to find another leaf, or playing his favorite game together.
And encourage him to find simple pleasures in other ways, such as talking about how delicious his snack is, or that you’ll be going to the park later in the day. While these aren’t meant to erase or dismiss his sadness, simple pleasures can also remind him of other sources of joy in his life.
It’s easy for us to dismiss our children’s sadness as silly, or we tell them to snap out of it, to feel happy as soon as possible. Sadness doesn’t work that way, though. Honor their emotions and allow them to learn about feeling sad. Feeling sad is normal for everyone, after all, including our kids.
Get more tips about dealing with your child’s emotions:
- Why You Shouldn’t Tell Your Child to Stop Crying
- How to Deal when Your Child Cries at Drop Off
- 23 Children’s Books about Feelings
- Why Time Outs Don’t Work (And What to Do Instead)
- Parenting Mistakes: Judging Your Child’s Emotions
Tell me in the comments: What are your best tips to deal with a sad child?
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