How to help your 'sad' child.
By Susie E. Caron © 4/26/15
Parents struggle to understand and help kids with their ‘negative’ feelings. It’s not hard to handle a happy kid, but what do you do when your child is sad?
Some kids will let their parents know that they are sad and talk about what made them feel that way. Other kids don’t. They may arrive home from anywhere appearing quiet, down in the mouth, and sad looking. If you ask, “What’s the matter?” or worse, “Why are you sad?” You will get no answer or perhaps an angry snarl. It’s these kids who make parents feel worried, frustrated, or even angry. “How can I help my kids,” you may ask, “if they won’t even talk about what is going on?” This article can help you to answer that question.
First: Don’t try to change your child’s feelings.
He/she actually has the right to feel whatever feelings come up. It’s not right or wrong to feel feelings. They are just feelings. Instead of trying to dig up the reasons, or ‘cheer up’ a sad child, just take notice. Then you can say something like “Oh, I see you are feeling sad right now.” At this point don’t ask any questions. You can also add this, “When (not if) you want to talk with me about what makes you sad today, I’ll listen.”
Second: Your child wants to know your answers to these three things.
a. Am I bad or awful for feeling sad?
b. Will you accept my feelings as an ok part of me?
c. Will you listen, without judging me, when I tell you about what makes me sad?
Third: You’ll want to be ready to give him/her three answers.
a. It’s okay to feel sad. Everyone has feelings and sad is just one of those feelings.
b. You are not wrong or bad for feeling sad. Sad may feel uncomfortable. After we talk I can help you find ways to feel better soon.
c. I will listen when you tell me what happened and I won’t get upset with you.
Here are two reasons kids won't easily tell you what they are sad about.
1. Kids don’t want to talk about their feelings sometimes, because they believe they have to protect their parents from the ‘awfulness’ inside of them. They fear you won’t love them or like them anymore if they reveal these nasty feelings and thoughts. You can help them, by letting them know that some feelings are easy to have, but others feel more uncomfortable. However, you have experienced all kinds of feelings and you know how to help them when feelings seem difficult or nasty. So they can safely share any feelings with you.
2. One more situation that cause problems is this: separation and divorce can cause kids to bottle up their feelings. If you are involved in this situation, be particularly sensitive to your children’s sadness. Expect it. Validate their feelings (while not getting caught up in the content). Agree that they are likely feeling sad and that feeling sad is to be expected. Let them know that it will take time, but eventually the sadness won’t feel quite as harsh or deep. In the meanwhile, tell them they can come to you for extra hugs and cuddle time anytime they are feeling sad. You may also want to read them some good books written for kids about divorce. Here are some links of books I recommend:
It’s Not your fault, Koko Bear; Vicki Lansky. This one can help really young kids understand their feelings and free them from thinking it’s somehow their fault.
Mom’s House, Dad’s House for Kids; Islina Ricci, Ph.D This book is excellent to read with kids 6 & up one chapter at a time. Older tweens and teens can be encouraged to read it themselves and talk with you after they complete each chapter.
Here’s a really helpful book for separating and divorcing parents to read.
What about the Kids: Judith S. Wallerstien & Sandra Blakeslees
What do you do to help your children when they seem sad? Comment below and I'll respond.
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Susie E. Caron
Susie E. Caron MA,
Author, Blogger, Podcaster,
Christian, Wife, & Mother, helps build parent-child relationships, 1 blog, book & podcast at a time.
Welcome! I recently retired from combined careers in teaching, psychotherapy, and parent coaching to spend more time writing.
When I'm not busy creating books or articles, you might find me looking for dark chocolate or riding my beautiful horse Apple in the woods and fields of Vermont.
These articles are for educational and self-help purposes only and are not intended as psychotherapy.
If you experience unusual symptoms or discomfort please see your medical or mental health practitioner.
No patent liability is assumed for use of the information contained. The author disclaims any responsibility for loss or risk for use or application of this material.
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Blog Reviews & Thank You!
July 13 at 7:17pm ·
Just wanted to say that I love your posts about the different ways to connect/relate/understand your child. It has given me a new approach towards understanding my daughter and allowing HER to tell me how she feels instead of me suggesting to her how she should feel. Thanks Susie!