Most children and teens experience some low moods and sadness that is typical due to everyday changes or stress. Preschoolers may feel sad when there are changes to daycare staff or babysitters. Older children may experience these feelings when something does not go their way, i.e. they change schools, or friends move away. For teens, not achieving academic, social, or personal goals may lead to feelings of sadness.
For some children and teens, sad or irritable feelings are more intense and long lasting. Your child might appear very sad, moody and irritable for weeks at a time. They might also seem to have little energy and not be interested in things they used to enjoy. There may be changes in their grades, sleeping and eating habits, and they might withdraw from friends. Sometimes, when these difficulties are distressing and interfere with a child’s well-being and daily functioning, it is an indication that he/she is struggling with depression. Depression occurs in approximately 3 to 8% of children. Depression in children can be effectively treated with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Medication may also be beneficial.
What can parents do to help? Here are some useful strategies to parent a child who feels sad:
• Talk to your child about their feelings
• Provide emotional support by listening
• Help your child label their emotions and understand what is causing them (e.g., “It seems like you are feeling upset that she didn’t want to play with you today”)
• Try to accept your children’s feelings. Even if they don’t “make sense” to you, try not to minimize your child’s feelings or “talk them out of it” (e.g., “There is no reason to feel sad…” or “It’s just a math quiz, you shouldn’t be worried”)
• Let your child know that feeling sad is normal and temporary
• Show your child how you deal with emotions by labelling your own feelings and talking about how you cope when feeling sad or irritable
• Encourage your child to continue to participate in enjoyable activities; even though it can seem effortful when feeling down, increasing activity levels helps to boost mood levels
• Help your child cope with situations that are making him or her upset. This could include sharing a different perspective on the situation, or coming up with solutions to solve a problem
• Have your child keep a balanced diet because hunger and nutrition can affect mood
• Maintain good sleep habits
• Set aside time to exercise and/or play sports