Signs that Indicate Sadness in Children
When children feel sad it can be heart-breaking for parents, sadness is a huge emotion and quickly starts to fill up whole days and affect many aspects of life. When a child feels sad it can quickly make adults feel helpless or frustrated that they cannot make it right. However, sadness is a normal emotion and we will all experience it at times in life. So how can we support it?
What does sadness look like?
- Struggling to find happy feelings
- Feeling tired or have no energy
- Not wanting to have fun / do things they previously enjoyed
- Expressing that they are disappointed in things
- Feeling that they are missing something or someone
- Complaining of feeling a bit gloomy or low or empty
- Being frequently tearful or expressing that they want to cry
- Changes in food intake
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Irritable or angry
- Complaining that everything is ‘hard’
- Feeling pessimistic
- Restless or unsettled
- Isolating themselves
What causes sadness?
- A number of different issues can cause sadness, and these will have
- different impacts on different children.
- Managing challenging or tough situations e.g. family separation, divorce, loss of friendships, bereavement illness, learning difficulties etc.
- Experiencing a trauma
- Things coming to an end
- Saying goodbye to people
- When someone we love is not well
- When things do not go as planned
- When we do something that hurts others
- When someone does something that hurts us
- Wanting to prevent someone we love getting into trouble/difficulty e.g. risky behaviours, gangs, drugs, or being aware a friend is at risk due to domestic violence or abuse
- Biological tendency – some children are more sensitive emotionally
- Family history of mental illness
What causes sadness?
Sadness can be created from a number of different issues:
- Sadness occurs when we have an emotional upset or painful experience
- and is completely normal and often disappears after a short period of time.
- Sadness can be caused because we are struggling to process a situation or event and is leads to low feelings.
- Sadness can be caused by feelings of disappointment that the child cannot process or make sense of, for instance, the loss of a loved one, being let down or having promises broken to them or a trusted adult disappointing them
- Sadness is created when there is increased activity in the brain between the areas linked to memory and emotions
Activities that we can share to help regulate feelings
Whilst we may not be able to resolve the issue causing sadness, we can support children to regulate their feelings and find relief from the overwhelm of sad feelings by considering activities such as;
- Doing some activities that make us laugh – funny movies,
- Doing some exercise in the fresh air – a walk, run or a bounce on a trampoline
- Listen to music, do some art work, read some books
- Draw or write or talk about things that make us peaceful or happy
- Do things or see people who make you feel happy
What do we need to consider?
- Be considerate – whilst your child’s reason for being sad may not feel relevant to you, to them their emotions are VERY real and impacting their life. Be considerate that they need you to acknowledge that this is the case and telling them it is ‘silly’ or to ‘cheer up’ could make them retreat and stop sharing their feelings.
- Be empathetic – when we feel sad, an empathetic friend makes all the difference, it is the same with children. Acknowledge that you believe their feelings and are with them. Validate their emotions are real and true.
- Look for patterns – working together to look for any patterns in their sadness, or triggers that happen in their day that lead to sad feelings can help you work together to look at ways to make these easier or resolve them. This may be looking at interactions, activities, places, environmental triggers or thoughts that occur that lead them to feel sad.
- Balance days – When we feel sad it can quickly lead us to isolating from the world. Keeping a good structure for sleep, physical activity, healthy foods and time with friends and family is important to help boost immune systems and feel good hormones.
- Feel good moments – when we feel sad we can quickly lose sight of the positives in our world, and in ourselves. Supporting children to keep secure routines and to praise them for what they have done well or achieved may not ‘fix’ their sadness but helps them to identify their value and worth.
- Avoid blame – it can be easy to blame the world for our sadness, whether it is friends, family or outside situations, however, blame is not helping to find regulation in our emotions and can mean children feel that the situation cannot be resolved unless that person changes. Whilst people’s behaviours may have contributed to children’s feelings it is important to help them identify how they can take back control and regulate their feelings again. This includes modelling the same behaviour – e.g. do not look to blame others for your emotions, and reflect that our emotions are a response to things and something that we can work on.
When do we need wider help?
If sadness is not shifting, has been occurring for a longer period of time (more than a few weeks) or is increasing in its intensity you should seek medical advice.
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