Of all the many human emotions, sadness can be one of the most difficult to manage. It occurs at many levels and in many different ways: it can be as simple as disappointment or as complex as grief and depression. Commonly identified as one of the primary or core emotions, sadness is also one of the first to develop and can be experienced very early in life. Magination Press book, A Feel Better Book For Little Tears by Holly Brochmann and Leah Bowen, is a beginner’s book that addresses the overall concept of sadness. It also provides parents and caregivers tools not only to help children process and cope with this difficult emotion, but to convey that it is normal–everyone feels sad sometimes. Here are some ways you can help your child understand and cope with sadness:
Responding to Sadness
Sadness can be felt, and expressed, in a variety of physical ways. Tears are the most obvious indications of sadness, but children may manifest sadness in other ways like anger, isolation, clinginess, or stomach ache. A child may be unable to communicate or even recognize some of these physical manifestations.
As a parent, first take note of changes in behavior that may demonstrate the less obvious reactions. Then you can help them connect those reactions to the sadness with verbal cues.
For example, if your child is being extra clingy, you can simply acknowledge their feelings by saying, “I know it makes you sad when Mommy can’t be with you all the time.”
Children can be sad for so many reasons, some of which may be significant to others, while others may seem miniscule or even ridiculous. It’s important to remember that while the child’s feelings may appear insignificant to you as an adult, they are quite the opposite from the child’s perspective. Bear in mind age-appropriate sadness and respond with both empathy and sympathy rather than trivializing your child’s feelings. “I’m so sorry you can’t wear your monster shirt today. I know it’s your favorite and you are sad when it isn’t clean. I understand how you feel, because I feel sad when that happens to me, too.”
One of the most important messages you can convey to your child during times of sadness is that you are there for them. Sadness can be a lonely emotion, especially if experiencing something very personal and individual. It helps to have support from someone who knows what you are going through.
If your child loses their favorite stuffed animal, for example, listen to them, however often they want to talk about it. Storytelling in this way may be their way to process their feelings. You may also normalize their feelings by sharing a story about how you experienced a similar loss when you were their age. Be honest about how sad you were and how you cried. Talk about what helped you with your sad feelings. In the meantime, let your child know you will be there for them if they need extra hugs or snuggles, or if they need to cry.
Parents often try to be strong for their children, to show them that everything will be okay. However, it can actually be beneficial for a child to see adults showing appropriate emotion. It is okay to say, “Daddy is sad, too.” This normalizes the child’s sadness and demonstrates that feelings are not something they need to try to mask or feel ashamed of.
Coping With Sad Feelings
Creative activities can be a wonderful outlet for expressing sad feelings in a constructive way. Instead of saying, “Don’t feel sad,” encourage your child to draw a picture about how they are feeling, sing, dance, or build something. Music, art, projects, modeling clay–there are many ways to use creativity to process emotions.
Teaching mindfulness and relaxation at an early age helps set the stage for children to continue to use these practices throughout a lifetime, especially if they learn it’s doable, enjoyable, and beneficial. When your child is feeling sad, encourage them to try breathing deeply. That will increase the flow of oxygen and slow their heartbeat, creating a physical sense of calm.
Visualizing–or imagining–a calm, happy place, like the sea shore or a park can help them feel more calm, too. You can even encourage your child to draw their happy place when they are done visualizing it. Breathing deeply or visualizing with your child can help you stay calm in stressful times, as well!
There is no get-over-sadness timeline. Depending on what your child is sad about, they may never lose the sense of loss, but over time they can learn how to cope and feel happy again. If the sadness is more minor, the child may move on quite fast. Either way, the child should be allowed to process their feelings at their own pace.
True strength and resilience are built by learning to process emotions rather than ignoring them. Allowing your child to experience and process sadness allows them to grieve the loss–an essential first step in the healing process. By allowing sad feelings to happen, your child is also learning that they are capable of coping with big emotions.
This article is a modified excerpt from Magination press book, A Feel Better Book for Little Tears, by Holly Brochmann and Leah Bowen.
Related Books from Magination Press
A Feel Better Book for Little Tears
This rhyming book will help kids identify what it feels like to be sad and what they can do to respond to it. It offers suggestions such as talking about what makes you feel sad, imagining happy things, or crying as a way to let the emotion out.
The book lets kids know that it’s perfectly normal to feel sad — but offers a gentle reminder that the feelings won’t last for forever.
Includes a Note to Parents and Caregivers about how to help children respond to strong feelings of sadness.