Teachers / Counselors,
Have you ever asked a child how his or her day was and heard the standard response of “good,” but deep down it seems like something is just a little bit off? In my experience as a school counselor, I find that more and more children are dealing with sadness, but it I also find that children can be masters at hiding these feelings. They may feel embarrassed about the feelings, or may not even be aware of what the feelings are – they just might feel different. Here are some signs a child might be experiencing sadness in his or her life:
1.Anger Outburst – At first this may appear to be a child throwing a fit or temper tantrum, or acting out. For some children who may not fully have the skills to behave appropriately most of the time, an anger outburst may not seem out of place. But if this is a new behavior for the child, it’s certainly a signal that something is different. And keep in mind that even children who are more prone to acting out may show changes in frequency, intensity or duration of these behaviors. All children should be given the same benefit of the doubt, and evaluated to see if sadness is possibly contributing to the outburst.
2.Lack of Interest – When a child starts to withdraw, and is no longer interested in things he or she used to enjoy, this can be a red flag. Of course some children just outgrow their hobbies or interests. But if this withdrawal is accompanied by a lack of energy, and the interests are not being replaced by other hobbies, there’s a real chance the child may be dealing with sadness.
3.Trouble Focusing – If a child starts to show signs that he or she lacks focus, especially on activities that used to come easily to him or her, take note. Having trouble focusing can be a sign that the child is experiencing stress or sadness. Most children will experience a lack of focus on occasion, and these brief bouts are not overly concerning. But when they become more prevalent, or recur in students that have traditionally not struggled with focus, it’s important to assess whether or not sadness plays a role.
4.Unexplained Aches or Pains – Some children who experience sadness will talk about not feeling well, or describe aches or pains that do not have a physical explanation. The first course is to make certain there isn’t a physical malady that needs to be addressed. But if, after examination by a medical professional, it’s determined there isn’t a physical explanation for the pain, it might be a good idea to see if the child is dealing with sadness or depression.
5.Grades Dropping – When children show patterns of performing differently in school, such as forgetting assignments, not studying for tests, etc., that’s a good sign that he or she is experiencing something unusual.
Keep in mind that a certain amount of moodiness is entirely normal, and most children will experience occasional sadness in their lives – it’s part of growing up. Children’s interests change as they grow, and as hormones enter the scene, outbursts, lack of focus, and aches and pains are normal. But these should be monitored to make certain they are not pervasive or ongoing. True childhood sadness and depression may be a serious matter.
If a child is experiencing sadness, it is important to allow him or her to talk about it. Do not judge whether their sadness is real or not, rather listen nonjudgmentally. Just talking about his or her sadness can help a child start to overcome this emotion. Allowing children to write in a journal about their feelings or draw pictures can help.
When trying to come up with solutions to help, try and have the child be the one who comes up with some possibilities. Allowing children to be the ones to come up with ideas will help build their coping skills and prepare them for other times they feel sad or depressed. Make sure he or she has at least one person they feel comfortable talking to about their feelings. This could be a parent, grandparent, coach, teacher, counselor, or family friend. The most important part is they have someone with whom they feel comfortable talking.
Use my new story, When I Couldn’t Get Over It, I Learned to Start Acting Differently, and the accompanying activities as springboards to help K-6 students talk about sadness.
Sadness is a normal emotion for children to experience. You just want to make sure they have the coping skills to deal with their sadness and make sure the sadness does not linger. If it does, reach out to parents and have the child evaluated by someone who can address and determine their level of sadness. Too many times I hear of sadness and depression as a negative thing. Remember, it takes a strong person to ask for help!
For more tips on coping strategies and dealing with sadness, check out the Boys Town National Hotline.