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The Sad Child - Sadness

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Sadness is characterized by cognitive and affective signs, and biological and behavioural changes. Some cognitive signs of sadness are pessimism, thinking difficulties, and thoughts of worthlessness; some affective signs are lack of pleasure, irritability, and tendency to be withdrawn and passive. Examples of biological changes related to sadness are low energy and fatigue, and examples of behavioural changes are lower motivation for activities and altered school performance.

The following section will help you to know, for each developmental stage, what behaviours are normal for that stage (green light area), what behaviours may be mildly to moderately outside the normal range (yellow light area) and what behaviours indicate a mental health problem (red light area). Back to top


  1. Children may appear sad (lose interest in their favorite activities, often cry, etc.) if they have not had enough sleep, or if there have been changes in caregivers such as daycare staff or babysitter.
  2. A very important developmental task of this age is to learn new things and feel successful. Most children of this age have learned independent eating, sleeping, intelligible speech and healthy separation from parents. Children whose desire to learn things at this stage is met with rejection, or who have not had opportunities to learn and develop, may doubt themselves or start to see their desires as bad. This may affect their overall mood. Similarly, children who may be withdrawn to begin with may have difficulty achieving these tasks, and this in turn which may further affect their comfort level and sense of control of their environment.
  3. It is normal for very young children to show sadness (lose interest in favorite activities, irritable behaviour, crying spells, etc.) when they are newly separated from their mother. For instance, in the first few days at the day care centre or preschool, children may be very cranky, cry often and show no interest in their favorite toys. Their reactions can be intensified when their parent also shows stress when separating from them.
  4. Children may seem sad and enjoy things less than they used to because they are not feeling well/are ill, are bothered by allergies, are tired or lack energy due to poor nutrition.
  5. Children may exhibit sad behaviours temporarily because they are upset about something or something is bothering them (such as loss of a pet).
  6. Young children who are going through any change such as relocating to a new home, city or school may at first show difficulty in adjusting to the new situation. They may lose interest in their favorite activities and seem temporarily sad due to a sense of loss. However, this problem should settle down within a few weeks as the child starts to play with others and receive positive feedback from children and adults.
  7. Especially at the beginning of the school year, many young children in Junior or Senior Kindergarten become upset when their parents drop them off at school, and they may become withdrawn for the first few days. After all, it is a new environment with unfamiliar faces, objects, sounds and routines. The problem might reappear when the child returns to school in September after summer holidays, or after long winter or spring vacations. However, this is less common after grade 1.
  8. It is normal for a child to feel sad if he or she is not getting enough attention and demonstrated love at home for some reason.
 

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These signs need to be a change from previous typical behaviour; otherwise the sign could be due to a problem other than sadness. For instance, if a child “often does not talk to anyone”, it could be a sign of sadness, but could also be a sign of another problem related to shyness, social anxiety, language problem, etc.
 
The sad child typically exhibits a cluster of signs such as lack of energy, ideas of worthlessness, eating difficulties, lack of pleasure, irritability, negative thoughts, withdrawn behaviours, etc. If a child is showing just irritable behaviour without any other signs, then it is quite possible that the child is not sad and that the reasons for irritable behaviours lie somewhere else.
 
The following behaviours are observed intermittently:
 
  1. The child continues to show signs of distress for days and without any lightening of mood.
  2. Soothing is not very helpful in changing his or her moodalthough it tended to be effective previously in the child’s daily routines.
  3. The child stays irritable, whines or cries at small things most of the time, even though he or she is not sick, tired or hungry.
  4. The child becomes aggressive,for instance, hitting a sibling, tormenting the cat or throwing a stick at the neighbour’s puppy.
  5. The child does not look happy and zestful, and does not laugh as oftenas before.
  6. Very few activities seem to engage the child,even when others provide extra attention.
  7. The child generally seems passive,significantly less responsive, and withdrawn.
  8. The child often speaks negatively about him or herself and others.
  9. The child dismisses his or her achievements.
  10. The child complains of low energy, tiredness, and fatigue.
  11. The child complains of headaches, stomachaches, etc.
  12. The child has difficulty concentrating.
  13. The child has difficulty making basicdecisions.
  14. The child is easily moved to tears.
  15. The child throws things given to him or her and seems irritable.
  16. The child is careless about his or her favorite possessions, or does not seem to value them. He or she lacks interest in things.
  17. The child moves frequentlyfrom one activity to another.
  18. The child sleeps too much or too little.
  19. The child eats too much or too little.
  20. The child does not talk to anyone.
  21. The child does not show excitement about receiving new toys or getting involved in things that used to give him or her pleasure.
  22. The child appears sluggish or slower than usual.

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Some kinds of behaviour strongly indicate a mental health problem when they interfere to a significant extent with a child’s functioning in school, social situations, or other normal family and recreational pursuits.

There may be a cause of concern when the child shows the following signs:
 
 
  1. Sad, angry or anxious frequent behaviours that last most of the time, most days, for a consecutive two weeks. These behaviours need to be a change from the child’s previous mood or behaviour pattern; otherwise they could be indicative of something else, such as trauma, multiple transitions, or serious health problems.
  2. Sadness and worry is so severe that the parent is unable to reassure the child, and interventions have not helped much.
  3. Sadness significantly interferes with the child’s home, community, academic and social functioning.
  4. The behaviour is combined with a number of other yellow light signs or with other known concerns in the child’s history such as recent parental divorce, abuse.
 
 
The following behaviours are observed most of the time, most days, for two consecutive weeks:

  1. The child loses interest in activities and objects that he or she used to enjoy. 
  2. Almost nothing engages the child.  The child usually has trouble concentrating on activities he or she previously engaged in.  
  3. The child looks very unhappy, and tends to cry or scream at small provocations. Their mood is generally irritable most of the time, regardless of the activity or the people around them.
  4. The child throws frequent temper tantrums lasting more than fifteen minutes daily, resulting in tiredness for the child, and stress for the caregivers.
  5. The child gives away his or her favorite possessions to others and shows no interest in keeping them or taking care of them.
  6. The child does not laugh or show any excitement when given an opportunity to engage in activities of his or her choice, or receiving possessions he or she longed for.
  7. The child talks clearly about hurting him or herself.
  8. The child is eating too much without enjoyment, or eating very little.
  9. The child is sleeping too much or sleeping very little.
  10. The child's attitude appears negative most of the time, in talk and deeds.
  11. The child does not generally seem proud of his or her success, frequently focusing and commenting on things gone wrong. 
  12. The child generally complains of low energy, tiredness and fatigue, although not ill.
  13. The child has headaches, stomachaches, or other physical symptoms most of the time.
  14. The child is easily moved to tears, and can not move on to enjoy daily activities.
  15. The child is highly self critical (“I am stupid, no one likes me, I am always going to fail”).
  16. The child is highly sensitive to any criticism, rejection or failure, although engaging in frequent self-blame.
  17. The child is rejecting positive feedback, for example, saying “Don’t talk to me; I can’t hear you”.
  18. The child hurts others (for instance poking into cat’s eyes, bothering it with a stick, hitting other children).

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  • It is very important for children of this age to be productive and to have opportunities for active engagement in their environment. If these opportunities are lacking, this may affect their self confidence and mood, particularly when they compare themselves to others.
  • When separated from parents or other adults to whom they are attached, children may appear sad (withdraw socially; get anxious and lose interest in things they usually enjoy). However, this should continue for no longer than about two weeks.
  • Children may seem sad (lose interest in things and experiences, lack motivation, appear fatigued) when lacking sleep or feeling hungry.
  • Children may display sad behaviours (begin to avoid pleasurable activities, withdrawing, prefer to be by themselves) when their behaviour is being excessively restricted.  When parents or caregiversare authoritarian and very critical in their response style, their children tend to become/be withdrawn and lacking in self confidence.
  • Poor health can make a child seem temporarily sad (lose interest in pleasurable activities, look fatigued, withdrawn). Many health conditions such as iron deficiency, anemia, thyroid dysfunction, viruses, food allergies and blood sugar irregularities can lead to symptoms of sadness.
  • Young children who change schools may at first show difficulty in adjusting to the new school. They may show some sad behaviours (for instance lose interest in their favorite activities, appear lonely, withdrawn, and less engaged in learning). However, this problem should settle down within about two weeks and should be limited to the school environment.
    • Note: If other sad behaviours such as eating and sleep problems, irritability, withdrawal, low energy and fatigue, separation anxiety, defiant behaviours are present both at school and home for most of the time, most days, then it is not typically normal and may require intervention.
  • Children may appear listless if they are bored and activities have become toomonotonous for them.
  • Children may show some sad behaviours if they are temporarily upset, but this is not a usual pattern of behaviour. They may be upset because
    • they lostsomeone or something dear to them, such as a friend moving away ,favorite toy or a pet, or
    • they are disappointed about not meeting goals such as getting a good grade,being elected as a class representative, selected for a role in a play, or making the sports team.

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These signs need to be a change from previous typical behaviour; otherwise the sign could be due to a problem other than sadness. For instance, if a child “often does not talk to anyone”, it could be a sign of sadness, but could also be a sign of another problem related to shyness, social anxiety, language problem, etc.
 
The sad child typically exhibits a cluster of signs such as lack of energy, ideas of worthlessness, eating difficulties, lack of pleasure, irritability, negative thoughts, withdrawn behaviours, etc. If a child is showing just irritable behaviour without any other signs, then it is quite possible that the child is not sad and that the reasons for irritable behaviours lie somewhere else.
 
The following behaviours are observed intermittently:
  1. The child displays a sad mood (crying, yelling, irritable and hostile behaviour).
  2. The child’s lack of interest in activities he or she used to enjoy continues for some days or intermittently and becomes intense as time passes.
  3. The child (unlike earlier self) appears listless, apathetic, or unmotivated in school.
  4. The child does not get engaged in tasks, or shows no interest in possessions that he or she previously enjoyed (for instance, diminished interest in sports, toys, music, clothes etc).
  5. The child becomes aggressive with others, for instance tormenting the cat or throwing a stick at the neighbour’s puppy.
  6. The child does not pay attention to personal appearance. Appears sloppy and does not care what he or she looks like.
  7. The child is extremely sensitivity to rejection or failure. Getting a C grade, or a fight with a friend, for example, can lead to tearfulness and withdrawn behaviour for days.
  8. The child shows hopelessness in thinking, such as “nothing will ever change, my parents will never stop arguing, no one will ever be nice to me, I can’t influence the way I feel or think”.
  9. The child seems passive and withdrawn, unlike his or her earlier self.
  10. The child complains of low energy, and seems tired and fatigued, even after a sleep.
  11. The child complains of headache, stomachache, and other physical problems, although not suffering from an illness.
  12. The child has difficulty making basic decisions, demonstrates confused and unclear thinking and communication.
  13. The child dismisses his or her achievements, and tends to focus on things that displease him or her.
  14. The child is highly sensitive to any criticism or failure; reacts excessively and has difficulty moving on.
  15. The child talks negatively about him or herself and others. For example, may say “I am so dumb at math, what’s the use of trying?”
  16. The child moves from one activity to another without finishing the first task, uses a trial and error approach to most things; or often shows concentration problems.
  17. The child has increasing number of unexcused absences from school.
  18. There is a downward trend in the child's academic progress, motivation and active participation.
  19. The child does not seem very concerned about his or her falling grades, almost predicting negative results.
  20. The child does not take care of valuable possessions as in the past, or does not show any excitement about owning them, or receiving new ones they had looked forward to.


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These behaviours need to be a change from previous mood or behaviour pattern. Otherwise they could be indicative of something else, such as trauma, multiple transitions, or serious health problems.
 
Some kinds of behaviour strongly indicate a mental health problem when they interfere to a significant extent with a child’s functioning in school, social situations, or other normal family and recreational pursuits.
 
There may be a cause of concern when the child shows the following signs:
  • Sad, angry or anxious frequent behaviours most of the time, most days for a consecutive two weeks.
  • Sadness and worry is so severe that the parent is unable to reassure the child, and interventions have not helped much.
  • Sadness significantly interferes with child’s home, community, academic and social functioning.
  • Behaviour is combined with a number of other yellow light signs or with other known concerns in the child’s history such as recent parental divorce, abuse.
 
The following behaviours are observed most of the time, most days, for two consecutive weeks:
 
 
  • Sadness (crying, yelling, and irritability) increases in intensity and persists for weeks.
  • Talking through any concerns does not help, and parents tend to feel powerless as they want to help their child feel better.
  • The child develops other physical complaints, such as headache or stomachache, which interfere with his or her participation in school, and recreational activities.
  • The child draws or writes with aggressive themes directed toward self or others with progressive frequency.
  • The child generally looks unhappy and smiles very little, regardless of the situation. 
  • The child no longer shows any interest in activities or objects (for instance, group activities, parties, class plays, field trips, assemblies, sports) that he or she used to generally enjoy and succeed in.
  • The child is usually disruptive to self or others in class instead of engaging in work.
  • The child tends to dismiss his or her accomplishments, focusing instead on self-blame and things that went wrong.
  •  The child usually expresses beliefs based on pessimism and a sense of helplessness. A sense of helplessness should be viewed as an immediate concern, as it signifies an overwhelming level of pain and disbelief that things will change for the better.
  • The child tends to magnify his or her failures, and view them in general rather than specific terms ("I'll never be any good at this.") most of the time.
  • Rewards at schools do not spark the child’s interest in activities at all, and his or her lack of responsiveness is evident from day to day.
  • School avoidance has increased consistently, unlike appropriate past attendance.
  • Inattention to personal appearance is evident regardless of the setting or the people the child meets with. The child appears sloppy and does not care what he or she looks like.
  • The child is extremely sensitive to rejection or failure, although often blames self. Getting a C grade, for example, or rejection for a play or team activity, leads to tearfulness and withdrawn behaviour for weeks. This adds to more self criticism.
  • The child shows hopelessness in thinking, such as “nothing will ever change, my parents will never stop arguing, no one will ever be nice to me, I can’t influence the way I feel or think”. Extreme thinking of a rigid nature has become the norm when talking about him or herself.
  • The child always avoids tasks in order to avoid frustration with the challenge and to avoid taking risks that might lead to failure.
  • The child often complains of low energy and fatigue, yet is not sick.
  • The child is giving away all of his or her things and favorite possessions to others, with no hard feelings of letting go of them (for instance giving away a valued stamp collection, clothes, jewelry, favorite books). This is usually because these things no longer give any pleasure and the child may be thinking of suicide.
  • The child is clearly talking about hurting him or herself, although others may think it is an attempt to get attention.
  • The child is frequently making comments such as “I am tired of this life; I hate this life, I feel empty; why am I here?” This reflects self-condemnation and desire to end the pain.
  • The child is writing notes with themes of aggression or death.
  • The child seems preoccupied with death or shows fears of death.
  • The child is getting involved in risky, escapist behaviour.
  • The child hurts him or herself such as self cutting, head banging, standing in the middle of the road with cars moving fast, etc.
  • The child does not seem to care much about the consequences of his or her behaviour; expects negative outcomes and rejection.
  
The highlighted signs above need urgent appropriate assessment and intervention. Please refer the child to the school support team, and see a therapist and your family doctor as soon as possible.

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  • Adolescence is a time of immense physical, psychological, and social changes. Adolescents may go through periods of moodiness and periods of blues and seem sad.  However this is usually temporary and should not last for more than a few days or a week at a time.
  • Attainment of healthy identity, a personal value system, and achieving an appropriate level of autonomy are the developmental tasks at this stage of life. Difficulties or lack of opportunities in achieving these tasks may affect an adolescent’s confidence and well being.
  • Adolescents have a deep need to relate and achieve familiaritywith same sex and opposite sex peers. Difficulties with this, for instance parental clashes or conflicts between parental and outside values, may significantly influence adolescents’ feelings and mood.Their feelings are also affected by the peer culture and the wish to fit in with a social group.
  • Adolescents may display sad behaviours because of lack of sleep and consequent fatigue. This has an impact on their learning and general response style, which in turn may be criticized by others.
  • Poor health can make an adolescent avoid pleasurable activities and display a sad mood. Many health conditions such as iron deficiency, anemia, thyroid dysfunction, viruses, food allergies and blood sugar irregularities could lead to signs of sadness.
  • Adolescents may feel very frustrated and disappointed if unable to accomplish their academic and personal goals, and they may go through temporary periods of sadness.
  • Young adolescents who change schools may at first show difficulty in adjusting to the new school, particularly when the transition takes place mid year when friendships and learning patterns have become established.They may look disinterested, withdrawn and sad; however, this problem should settle down within a few weeks.
  • Any unanticipated change in life, such asserious ill health,loss of a loved one or loss of parent’s job, may lead adolescents to experience temporary sadness.
  • Difficulties in romantic relationships (breakup, rejection from a loved one etc.) could lead to periods of temporary blues’.

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These signs need to be a change from previous typical behaviour; otherwise the sign could be due to a problem other than sadness. For instance if a young adolescent “often does not talk to anyone”, it could be a sign of sadness but could also be a sign of another problem related to shyness, social anxiety, language problem, etc.)
The sad adolescent typically exhibits a cluster of signs such as lack of energy, ideas of worthlessness, eating difficulties, lack of pleasure, irritability, negative thoughts, withdrawn behaviours, etc. If a young person is only showing irritable behaviour without any other signs, then it is quite possible that he or she is not sad and that the reasons for irritable behaviours lie somewhere else.
 
The following behaviours are observed intermittently:
The young adolescent
  • Lacks interest in activities he or she once enjoyed in and out of school.  This lack of interest lasts for many days and its intensity is increasing as time passes.
  • Appears sad to peers and adults.
  • Seems passive and withdrawn,unlike his or her previous usual self.
  • Complains of low energy and seems tired as well as fatigued, even if he or she has slept.
  • Has difficulty concentrating or making basic decisions, despite previously wishing to become more independent.
  • Is confused and unclear in his or her thinking,as noted in communication with others.
  • Becomes aggressive, for instance fights with other teens and initiates conflicts.
  • Dismisses his or her achievements, and focuses much more on things gone wrong.
  • Does not pay attention to personal appearance. Appears sloppy and does not care what he or she looks like, even if appearance and feedback about appearance were important in the past.
  • Is engaging in risky behaviour such as playing with matches or knives, climbing to great heights, using drugs etc.   May be experiencing deep down desire to hurt/destroy self.
  • Is extremely sensitive to rejection or failure. Getting a C grade, for example, or rejection from the boyfriend leading to tearfulness and withdrawn behaviour for weeks without being able to regroup.
  • Shows hopelessness in thinking, making statements such as:  “nothing will ever change, my parents will never stop arguing, no one will ever be nice to me, I can’t influence the way I feel or think”.
  • Talks negatively about self and others: “I am so bad at this; I am sure I will not get invited to the party/team/activity”.
  • Appears to feel pessimistic and helpless. Starts to expect the situation to go on and on.
  • Has unexcused absences from school or classes, unlike his or her common attendance pattern.  
  • Shows a downward trend in academic progress, active learning and number of interests.
  • Does not seem very concerned about falling grades; expects negative outcomes.
  • Is not motivated by rewards, and feels unworthy of positive feedback.
  • Has angry outbursts for minor things that caused frustration.
  • Sleeps too much or too little.
  • Eats too much or very little. Does not seem to enjoy food even when overeating.
  • Does not appear to value anything, and displays a careless attitude towards possessions previously valued or desired.
  • Appears fatigued, apathetic, unmotivated and slow. Appears unwell and preoccupied.
  • Prefers to stay alone, unlike previous interactive nature, and does not show interest in socializing with friends.

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Some kinds of behaviour strongly indicate a mental health problem when they interfere to a significant extent with a child’s and youth’s functioning in school, social situations, or other normal family and recreational pursuits.

There may be a cause of concern when the child/youth shows signs of:
1.    Frequent sad, angry or anxious behaviours, which last most of the time, most days, for two consecutive weeks.
2.    Sadness and worry is so severe that the parent is unable to reassure the child/youth, and interventions have not helped much.
3.    Sadness significantly interferes with the child’s home, community, academic and social functioning.
4.    Behaviour is combined with a number of other yellow light signs or with other known concerns in the child’s history such as recent parental divorce, or abuse.

These behaviours need to be a change from previous mood or behaviour pattern; otherwise they could be indicative of something else, such as trauma, multiple transitions, or serious health problems.

 
The following behaviours are observed most of the time, most days, for two consecutive weeks:

The young adolescent:
 
 
  1. Shows lack of interest in activities he or she once enjoyed, such as group activities, parties, class plays, field trips, assemblies, sports.  This lack of interest lasts for two consecutive weeks and appears most days, most of the time. Its intensity has increased with passing time.
  2. Prefers to stay alone most of the time, and does not enjoy social relationshipsas he or she used to.
  3. Spends time in solitary activities for progressively longer periods of time (for instance, watching TV or playing video games alone).
  4. Is passive and withdrawn most of the time, and in any setting.
  5. Is pessimistic and helpless most of the time.
  6. Appears sloppy and does not care about his or her looks. Inattention to personal appearance has become more apparent to peers and adults. 
  7. Is engaging in risky and escapist behaviour such as playing with matches or knives, climbing to great heights, practicing unsafe sex, use of drugs etc. May be experiencing deep down desire to hurt or destroy him or herself.
  8. Shows extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure. Getting a C grade, for example, or rejection from the boyfriend leads to tearfulness and withdrawn behaviour for weeks. Clearly unable to move on.
  9. Shows hopelessness in thinking, such as, “nothing will ever change, my parents will never stop arguing, no one will ever be nice to me, I can’t influence the way I feel or think”.
  10. Sleeps too much or too little, and eats too much or too little.
  11. Has poor concentration and difficulty making decisions; poor judgment and problems with memory.
  12. Often complains of low energy and fatigue, although not ill.
  13. Shows diminished interest in school (school absences and skipping classes has increased consistently).
  14. Shows a marked reduction in grades, motivation and participation.
  15. Dismisses his or her achievements most of the time, focusing instead on negatives.
  16. Is agitated or on edge, for progressively longer periods.
  17. Has increased abuse of drugs, alcohol, smoking, and the does not seem to show any concern for his or her health.
  18. Is making unwise decisions and getting involved in risky behaviours.
  19. Is giving away favorite possessions to others with no hard feelings of letting go of them (for instance giving away valued stamp collection, clothes, jewelry, favourite books). This is usually because these things don’t give him or her any pleasure any longer, and the young person may be thinking of suicide.
  20. Be careful to determine whether this behaviour is out of charity, sharing, or because the adolescent no longer uses these things or they are beyond his developmental level. That would not be a cause for concern. But if possessions are given away due to lack of any interest in them, it may be a sign of wanting the daily pain they feel to end.
  21. Writes notes or poems about death with growing frequency.
  22. Talks about hurting others or him or herself.
  23. Seems preoccupied with the topic of death and feeling empty inside: “My life is bad, nothing will ever change”. 
Note: The highlighted signs above need urgent appropriate assessment and intervention. Please refer to the school support team, family doctor and mental health professional. Your young adolescent is in need of immediate care.
 

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  • Adolescence is a time of immense, social, physical and psychological changes. Adolescents may go through periods of moodiness and periods of blues and seem sad and confused.  However, this is usually temporary and should not last for more than a few days or a week at a time.
     
  • Attainment of healthy identity, a personal value system, and achieving appropriate level of autonomy are the developmental tasks at this age. Difficulties or lack of opportunities in achieving these tasks may impact an adolescent’s confidence and well being.
  •  
  • Adolescents have a deep need to relate and achieve familiarity with same sex and opposite sex peers. Difficulties with this, for instance parental clashes or conflicts between parental and outside values, may significantly affect their feelings and mood.Their feelings and reactions are also impacted by their peer culture and the wish to belong and fit in.
  • Adolescents may display sad behaviours because of lack of sleep and consequent fatigue. This can result in lowered motivation for academics, and a less co-operative communication style. In turn, they are likely to receive negative feedback, which also impacts on their sullenness.
  • Poor health can make an adolescent avoid pleasurable activities and display a sad mood. Many health conditions such as iron deficiency, anemia, thyroid dysfunction, viruses, food allergies and blood sugar irregularities can lead to signs of sadness.
     
  • Slower physical development can result in moodiness when adolescents compare themselves to peers who look older and appear more self-assured.
     
  • Adolescents may feel very frustrated and disappointed if unable to accomplish their academic,social and personal goals, and they may go through temporary period of sadness.
     
  • Young adolescents who change schools may at first show difficulty in adjusting to the new school. If a change takes place in mid year it can be even more difficult, as friendships and learning patterns have become more established by then. They may look disinterested, withdrawn and sad; however, this problem should settle down within a few weeks.
     
  • Any unanticipated change in life such as prolonged illness, loss of a loved one or loss of parent’s job may lead adolescents to experience temporary sadness.
     
  • Difficulties in romantic relationships (breakup, rejection from a loved one etc.) could lead to periods of temporary dejection.

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The adolescent:
  • Lacks interest in activities he or she once enjoyed in and out of school.  This lack of interest lasts for many days and its intensity is increasing as time passes.
  • Appears sad to peers and adults.
  • Seems passive and withdrawn; is less responsive to approaches by others.
  • Complains of low energy and seems tired as well as fatigued, even after sleeping.
  • Becomes aggressive, for instance fights with siblings/peers and initiates conflicts.
  • Is inattentive to personal appearance. Appears sloppy and does not care about his or her looks, even if he or she did so earlier, and often devoted extra time to personal appearance.
  • Engages in risky behaviour such as playing with matches or knives, climbing to great heights, unsafe sex, using drugs etc. May be experiencing deep down desire to hurt/destroy him or herself.
  • Is extremely sensitive to rejection or failure. For example, getting a C grade, or rejection from the boyfriend leading to tearfulness and withdrawn behaviour for weeks, without being able to move on.
  • Shows hopelessness in thinking, such as “nothing will ever change, my parents will never stop arguing, no one will ever be nice to me, I can’t influence the way I feel or think”. Feelings of hopelessness should be of immediate concern as the youth is burdened with pain and feelings that the suffering will be prolonged in the future.
  • Has difficulty concentrating or making basic decisions, unlike earlier self.
  • Shows confused and unclear thinking when communicating with others.
  • Dismisses own achievements, and focuses on the things that displeased him or her.
  • Talks negatively about self and others, such as: “what’s the use, I know I am going to fail, and I should because I am so bad at it”.
  • Appears to both peers and adults to feel pessimistic and helpless.
  • Has unexcused absences from school or classes, unlike past attendance pattern.
  • Shows a downward trend in academic progress, active participation and interest.
  • Does not seem very concerned about the falling grades, almost expecting not to succeed.
  • Is unmotivated by rewards; feels unworthy of good things happening to him or her.
  • Has angry outbursts for minor things.
  • Sleeps too much or too little.
  • Eats too little or too much, without enjoying the food.
  • Does not appear to value anything, and displays a careless attitude towards possessions he or she was attached to in the past.
  • Appears fatigued, apathetic, unmotivated and slow, as if ill or lacking in sleep.
  • Prefers to stay alone and does not show interest in socializing with friends, even though was active socially in the past and often initiating contacts.

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The adolescent:
 
  • Shows lack of interest in activities he or she once enjoyed (group activities, parties, class plays, field trips, assemblies, sports). This lack of interest lasts for two consecutive weeks, most days and most of the time, and its intensity has increased with passing time.
  • Prefers to stay alone most of the time, and does not enjoy social relationships, unlike typical past behaviour.
  • Does not show interest in romantic relationships; feels that others do not have a reason to find him or her attractive.
  • Spends time in solitary activities for growing periods of time (for instance, watching TV or playing video games alone).
  • Is passive and withdrawn most of the time, regardless of who tries to engage him or her.
  • Expresses ideas that are pessimistic and helpless most of the time.
  • Inattention to personal appearance has become evident to all. Appears sloppy and not caring about his or her looks any more.
  • Is engaging in escapist, risky behaviour such as playing with matches or knives, climbing to great heights, practicing unsafe sex, using drugs etc. May be experiencing deep down desire to destroy him or herself.
  • Is extremely sensitive to rejection or failure. For example, getting a C grade, rejection from the boyfriend leading to tearfulness and withdrawn behaviour for weeks without being able to regroup.
  • Shows hopelessness in thinking, such as “nothing will ever change, my parents will never stop arguing, no one will ever be nice to me, I can’t influence the way I feel or think”.
  • Sleeps too much or too little, and eats too much or too little.
  • Shows poor concentration and difficulty making decisions in most settings and activities.
  • Often complains of low energy and fatigue, although he or she is not ill.
  • Shows diminished interest in school, both academic and social activities (school absences and skipping classes has increased consistently).
  • Shows a marked reduction in grades, motivation and active participation.
  • Dismisses his or her achievements most of the time, and appears fixated on self-blame.
  • Is agitated or on edge.
  • Has increased abuse of drugs, alcohol, smoking, and does not seem to show any concern for his or her health, and future.
  • Is making unwise decisions and getting involved in escapist, risky behaviours.
  • Is giving away favorite possessions to others with no hard feelings of letting go of them (for instance, giving away valued stamp collection, clothes, jewelry, favorite books). This is usually because these things aren’t pleasurable any longer and he or she may be thinking of suicide.  Be careful to determine that this behaviour is not out of charity, sharing, or because the adolescent no longer uses these things or they are beyond his developmental level. If so, it is not a cause for concern. However, if valued possessions are given away due to lack of any interest in them, it may be the adolescent’s way of saying that he or she does not want to continue this painful life.
  • Writes notes or poems about death.
  • Talks about hurting others or him or herself.
  • Seems preoccupied with the topic of death and feeling empty inside.
 
[Note: The highlighted signs above need urgent appropriate assessment and intervention. Please refer to the school support team; immediate consultation with the family doctor for services with a mental health professional.]
 

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The following categories provide some ways of understanding the reasons why children may appear sad, and when their behaviour might indicate a mental health problem. Behaviours may overlap the various categories.

What factors may influence sadness?

  • Genetics, biology, infection or other physical illness
  • Brain chemistry
  • Temperament
  • Home environment that has become complex and stressful
  • Family changes such as new sibling who becomes the focus of extra attention, or divorce, death or illness
  • Experience or witness of a traumatic or very stressful event such as abuse, war, serious accident, or hurricane and other natural disasters.

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  1. As young children, boys and girls tend to show sadness equally.  However, adolescent girls tend to show (more overtly) this behaviour twice as much as boys.
  2. Temperament is an inborn style of responding to the environment and its changes. For instance, some children are very calm and easygoing to begin with while some are relatively cranky and difficult to soothe. Their environment could further shape a child’s personality (for instance, a child’s difficult temperament could be mellowed by a calming environment). Children born to depressed mothers tend to have temperaments that lean towards sadness. A negative environmental factor (such as lack of adequate care, abuse, etc.) makes them vulnerable to develop more serious problems. The more prolonged the stress factors, they harder it will be to help children overcome their painful feelings. Children who adapt easily to unfamiliar situations seem to be better protected against depression than those who get overwhelmed by changes, who are more likely to get sad for longer.
  3. Children with a chronic or life-limiting illness may feel sad and helpless at what is happening to them.
  4. Children with disabling conditions, including learning disabilities, may show pessimistic feelings because of feelings of being different from others and experiencing feelings of frustration and helplessness.
  5. Possible physical causes of sadness must be considered. Hormonal imbalance might exist, especially in girls at puberty. Other causes may be iron deficiency, anemia, thyroid dysfunction, viruses, food allergies and blood sugar irregularities.

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Consider the child’s living situation:
  1. Is the child newly placed in foster care? Have they been in care before? For how long?
  2. Is the child newly adopted? At what age? What was their living arrangement before?
  3. Are the parents in the process of or newly separated or divorced? What was the child told? How?
  4. Are parents emotionally available to meet the needs of the child?
  5. Do parents get along with each other? Do fights and conflicts mark the home environment?
  6. Does the child feel their needs add to the home stress?
  7. Is the child experiencing any kind of abuse?
  8. Has a parent recently moved in with a new partner or spouse? Do they have differing parenting styles and expectations?
  9. Has the child learned about a recent death of a relative, or a child their age?
  10. Is the family facing any crisis or conflict? Has it been prolonged?
  11. Is the child getting adequate care, overt love and attention at home from his or her parents?
  12. Is there a new baby in the family or a newly adopted sibling who has just joined the family?
  13. Is there a parent or sibling or other family member in the home who is sick/has chronic health problem, is disabled and requires ongoing extra care?
  14. Is there anyone at home who has a substance abuse problem, and has unpredictable reactions?
  15. Is one of the parents depressed? Do they talk about it and show it openly?
  16. Do parents openly communicate with their child and encourage expression of feelings?
  17. Has the family moved multiple times?
  18. Is their parental pressure for extra high achievement? Or, are parents uninvolved in the child’s daily learning and needs?

Employment and Income

  1. Are parents employed?
  2. Are there any financial pressures or poverty?
  3. Are the children learning about economic concerns and the emotional burden it puts on the parents?

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  • Having a disability may also create a sense of “difference” in the child, or about the child by peers. A child or youth may become prone to developing depression if he or she does not learn healthy coping mechanisms to deal with the disability.
  • Parents of a child with disabilities may feel sad, overprotective, and anxious for their vulnerable child. They may also be overwhelmed by new responsibilities and may not find time to engage in enjoyable activities. The child may pick up the parents’ feelings and withdraw from enjoyable activities.
  • Parents may feel guilty in some way, and overprotect their disabled child. As a result, the child may not have an opportunity to expand interests in the outside world. This may lead to the child’s loneliness and withdrawn behaviours.
  • Some families are ashamed about their disabled child or do not fully understand the disability. They may try to avoid discussing it. The child may develop distorted views about his or her disability and may feel very alone in their struggle with the challenges. This can make them prone to develop sadness.
  • Children may experience a loss of independence when they are disabled, creating feelings of sadness and helplessness that they cannot do the same things that other kids do.
  • Children with newly acquired disabilities, such as broken legs or arms or loss of mobility, may be traumatized at what is happening to them. They may have concerns about their body image and having lost their previous skills. They may start to feel rejected by their peers, as they cannot engage in some activities. Consequently, they may display sad behaviours (lose interest in once-enjoyed activities or important things in their life, become irritable, show pessimism etc).

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Children who are perceived as different based on factors such as ethnicity, language proficiency, economic status, sexual orientation may compare themselves negatively against the more “mainstream” culture. These differences may, in turn, contribute to their mood and they may feel sad, and eventually may withdraw.

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  • Some cultures/cultural groups are struggling with basic human needs (food, shelter, safe life, etc). Mental health facilities may not be easily accessible or may not seem a priority. As a result, a comprehensive understanding of sadness and possible interventions for addressing it may not be available to the child and family.
  • In some cultures, response to an event like death is more intense, overt, communal, and longer in duration than in others. A child may look sad for a month or even more because the family is still going through the grieving process.
  • In some religious sects, there are times when members are expected to be sad, due to a sad historical event. The family may shy away from pleasurable activities during that period.
  • Some cultures celebrate their happiness in a reserved manner. It does not necessarily mean that the child is sad if he or she avoids expressions of happiness (such as drinking alcohol, dancing, partying out all night, etc).
  • In some cultures, girls are taught to be very compliant, approving, and agreeable. Expression of feelings and self-assertion may be discouraged in them. Such a girl may find it very difficult to adjust to a culture where the role of a woman is quite different than the one she has been exposed to.
  • Newly-arrived immigrant or refugee children of any age have to deal with new challenges in the new country (learning new school system, new language, making new friends, etc). They may be anxious in unfamiliar settings or sad about the loss of their home country, culture, and people left behind. Children may be sad temporarily because they may miss their family, friends, and previous school.
  • At times a child may find it very difficult to adjust to the values of the new country, which may be very different from the country of origin. A child is prone to developing sadness and loneliness if he or she does not have adequate support factors (such as friends from his or her culture, parents who help the child adjust to the new culture instead of being distant from it, a sense of being welcomed, etc.) to modulate this difference.

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  • Children who have had a traumatic experience (abuse, family violence, war, natural disasters, accident, etc.) are prone to experience sadness, especially when the traumatic events were prolonged.
  • Parents of children who have had a traumatic experience may display sad behaviours. As a result the child might copy the same behaviours.
  • Children from a turbulent environment (e.g. family violence, physical abuse, child neglect etc.) live in unpredictable and chaotic situations. Parents may be very inconsistent and children may not be able to predict what kind of reaction will result from their behaviour at any given time. They may feel helpless, scared and sad.
  • Children who are exposed to traumas like famine and war tend to be sad as their basic needs such as food, shelter, safe future, predictable home environment, etc. are impacted by the trauma and its effects on families and communities.

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  • Develop a caring and supportive home environment for children on an ongoing basis.
  • Parents should model an optimistic and positive attitude. Use of positive language, seeing most situations in a positive light, and positive actions by parents are excellent ways to teach optimism and positive behaviour to children. Parents are powerful role models from early on and provide a safety net that children bring to other interactions out of the home.
  • Be funny and humorous with your children (for instance watching a funny movie on TV, enjoying telling jokes).
  • Give choices to your child and set up challenging but reachable goals. Encouraging children to take initiatives, making choices and solving a problem, gives them a feeling of mastery.
  • Include fun and enjoyable activities as part of the daily routine. Take some time out on a daily basis to share a funny story, listen and express your approval.
  • Put less emphasis on competition and structure activities in a way where siblings have to cooperate with each other.
  • Maintain regular and open communication with teachers; share with them your positive observations in addition to questions you may have.
  • Encourage your child to refrain from comparing their performance to others. Instead, emphasize attention to personal improvement (e.g., maintain records of own progress rather than comparing work to others).
  • Make sure that your child is sleeping and eating enough, and regularly; watch to make sure he or she is feeling well.
  • Talk to your child to see if he or she is experiencing some kind of loss or worry (for instance, loss of a friend, parent’s argument that might cause them concern and questions, etc). Ask children if anything is bothering them.
  • Reward a child when he or she thinks optimistically, and ignore when a child shows pessimistic behaviour.
  • Focus on the positives of the child and continue to provide avenues to the child where he or she feels successful.
  • Make sure that your child is exposed to different interesting activities to avoid preoccupation with negative thoughts.
  • Spend alone time with your children. When your children know that you take time to engage in activities with them such as mowing the lawn together, watching a movie or going for a weekly trip to the supermarket, they are developing the trust to open up with you to talk about what may be on their mind.
  • Show your care and affection.  Children struggling with sadness often feel alone and empty inside.  Support them with your love, hugs, and emotional and physical intimacy.
  • Give children ample opportunities to choose without overwhelming them with too many choices. Restrictive and rigid parenting where the parent makes a decision without involving the child can leave the child feeling powerless, ultimately leading to low self-esteem.
  • Do not give the message to your child that you love or approve of them only if they are successful. Such a message can leave them feeling vulnerable, afraid of making mistakes, leading to poor self esteem and feelings of sadness. Love them unconditionally and appreciate them for their efforts instead of the outcome. They need to hear time and again that you love them even if you do not always approve of their behaviour.

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As a general rule…

  1. Keep a notebook to record your child’s behaviours in your home language. Examples of entries might be:  “Instead of waking up in the middle of the night, my child is sleeping peacefully.” or “There is an increase in the number of fights between the two brothers.”
  2. Accentuate the positives of your child. Where possible, focus your discussion with the child on their appropriate behaviour of participating in pleasurable activities/showing happy disposition. Reinforce them for this behaviour. With a younger child, clap, smile and show your excitement non-verbally also.
  3. Raising your child in a ‘bubble wrapped’ environment does not help. When you try too hard to protect your child from the upsets, disappointments and failures that are an inevitable part of life, you are shielding them from developing the resiliency and emotional fortitude needed to deal with the complex dilemmas of life. Instead, try to give them opportunities where they are exposed to a certain amount of risk taking so that they build inner self-confidence in their ability to manage life’s challenges and complex dilemmas. You can be there to guide them! For instance, if your child wants to play on a soccer team but can’t kick the ball straight, then sit down with him or her to problem solve. You may want to practice with them in the back yard or take them to the park with the soccer ball to play with other children. This way you are modeling for them that they need to face the difficulty instead of running away from it.
  4. Shape situations in which your child is apt to feel successful. Children may feel overwhelmed if you engage them in activities that do not match their natural talent. For instance, if they are not interested in drawing pictures, don’t force them to. Instead encourage them to excel in activities that come to them naturally and they find intrinsically motivating. Fully celebrate with them when they are successful. Giving them opportunities to recognize their strengths and use them helps nurture their sense of mastery and control over their environment.
  5. Parents need to work as a team with their child, giving the same message consistently.  If the mother feels that soccer lessons are important for the child while the father tends to disagree, then the child is getting a double message, and feels confused and vulnerable to sadness. Try to reach the same consistency with the child’s day care or school. Total consistency may be hard to reach, but you can be creative in reaching a compromise.
  6. Try to maintain normalcy in your home environment. If your child has challenges, these may impact your home routines and normal family interactions. While your situation is fragile, it is important to continue to hold family celebrations and social gatherings with which your child feels comfortable. Do not let your child’s challenges become so big that they lead to a total collapse of your home environment.
  7. Sad children tend not to talk and to isolate themselves, causing parents to worry for their well being. Without being pushy, it is important that you engage your child in a conversation. Talk to them about their day, friends, activities. They may try to close the conversation by saying “I don’t know”, so try to be creative in asking questions or in creating situations that may open them up (for instance, talking to them while they are sitting in the back seat and you are driving them to a place of their choice.)
  8. Sad children stop participating in activities, and may spend enormous amounts of time in front of the TV. Too much avoidance of activities may isolate them further and reinforce their negative beliefs about themselves and their outside environment. You may want to introduce them to these activities gradually, so, for instance, if they do not want to play on the equipment in the park, they can observe on the sidelines.
  9. Reduce stress at home. Parental conflicts, regimented activities, major disruptions to household, significant changes may exacerbate your child’s sadness. Try to keep adult conversations away from them to reduce confusion and resulting worry.
  10. You don’t want to share your child’s sadness with the whole world, but it doesn’t need to be a family secret either. Sharing your struggle with people in your support network who may be helpful to you in dealing with the challenges may actually bring them closer to you. You may want to ask them for real help, such as baby sitting for the sibling or bringing home groceries.
  11. Recognize a child’s progress when he or she participates in enjoyable activities and point it out to them.
  12. Talk with the child about whether something is bothering him or her (for instance, threats at school or daycare, bullying, any changes at home, any loss). Empathize and help children deal with the problem they are facing.
  13. Have peers invite your child to participate in pleasurable activities, even if short in duration.
  14. Allow your children to be present during activities without active participation. Reinforce them for their level of participation, no matter how little it is, and expect a gradual increase.
  15. Model optimism and flexibility in thinking. Focus on the positives in the situation. Teach the child that, instead of worrying or giving up, it is better to think it through and take appropriate action, to move on instead of getting stuck on problems and grudges. Help children to see that their adversities are not permanent and do not impact all aspects of their life. For instance, if they were unsuccessful in getting their block tower to stay upright, help them remember the beautiful sand castle they built.
  16. Sad children also tend to globalize their problems. For instance, if they are not good at colouring within the lines, they may think they will never learn to colour or draw. Engage in a discussion with them to correct their error of magnifying their problem. Help them recall successes in a range of activities.
  17. Teach your child to avoid negative self-talk. Help them turn negative statements into more positive ones. For instance, instead of saying “I can’t score a goal”, they could say “I will keep practicing so I can aim straighter”. Thinking positively leads to positive actions.
  18. Help them develop an attitude of gratitude. Noticing small things, which they take for granted, helps them to remember good things in their life, and how it could have been worse.
  19. Help them learn their character strengths and use them in their daily life more. For knowing their strengths and ways to use them, they can go to website: www.positivepsychology.org . The emphasis here should be to empathize with the child’s problems and help them use their strengths in dealing with adversities. For instance a child whose strength is bravery could use this strength to deal with his or her challenges.
  20. Modify or adjust situations that cause your child to be reluctant to participate (e.g., degree of difficulty, competition, fear of failure, threat of embarrassment etc.)
  21. Make sure that child is involved in physical activity. A physical workout mobilizes the body to produce more hormones which elevate one’s mood.
  22. Notice and appreciate their child for his or her strengths more. Take time to celebrate your child’s accomplishments.
  23. It is important for parents to take time to create opportunities that may be of interest to their child, increase their involvement in the child’s life and model having fun in life. Taking them out for a vacation, to their favorite places, playing games with them, or watching funny movies together may be helpful.
  24. Parents should talk to their child and build a discussion around what may be bothering the child, and teach positive ways of coping with their problems. All feelings should be accepted and discussed. There is no substitute for children being able to discuss angry, jealous, hopeless, and other feelings with parents.
  25. Parents should encourage their child to promote multiple relationships and activities that are likely to build the child’s self esteem. Children are especially vulnerable to feelings of sadness if their self worth depends on one or two sources of self-esteem. Encourage children to feel close to other adults as well as peers. Loss of approval is much less threatening when there are several sources of approval and acceptance.
  26. Consider a parenting class. These are often available at community clinics or social services organizations.

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  • Try above strategies in the Yellow Light area.
  • If your child is in school, speak to his or her teacher about the possibility of referring the child for discussion at the School Team meeting to involve school professionals in the intervention.
  • Consider with the child’s teacher whether any adjustment to the school day is advisable.
  • Something has gone terribly wrong if the child is hurting or threatening to hurt someone. If this is the case, you may want to consider seeing your family physician or seeking a referral to a therapist.
Documenting a child’s behaviour related to sadness is important for a number of reasons:
  • It demonstrates that you are aware that there is a problem.
  • It provides a clear and concrete description of the problem.
  • It provides a vehicle for sharing the problem with the therapist, school administrators, parents and consultants.
  • It can be a framework for planning appropriate interventions for the child.
  • It can support you in your role as a parent.

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  • Develop a caring and supportive home environment for children.
  • Parents should model optimistic and positive attitude. Use of positive language, seeing most situations in a positive light, and positive actions by parents are excellent ways to teach optimism and positive behaviour to children.
  • Be funny and humorous with your children (for instance watching a funny movie on TV).
  • Give choices to your child and set up challenging but reachable goals. Encouraging children to take the initiative, make choices and solve problems gives them a feeling of mastery.
  • Include fun and enjoyable activities as part of the daily routine. Take some time out on a daily basis to share jokes.
  • Put less emphasis on competition and structure activities in a way that siblings have opportunities to cooperate with each other.
  • Maintain regular and open communication with your children’s teachers. Share your positive observations as well as your questions.
  • Encourage your child to refrain from comparing their performance to others. Instead, emphasize attention to personal improvement (e.g., maintain records of own progress rather than comparing work to others).
  • Make sure that your child is sleeping and eating enough, and on a regular basis.  Watch to make sure he or she is feeling well.
  • Talk to your child to find out if he or she is experiencing some kind of loss (for instance, loss of a friend, parents’ argument that may have seemed frightening, etc). With an older child, also talk about any change in behaviour you have noticed. Ask if anything is bothering him or her.
  • Reward a child when he or she thinks optimistically, and ignore pessimistic behaviour.
  • Focus on the positives of the child and continue to provide avenues to the child where he or she feels successful.
  • Make sure that your child is exposed to different interesting activities to avoid preoccupation with negative thoughts.
  • Spend alone time with your child. When children know that you take time to engage in activities with them, such as mowing the lawn together, watching a movie or going for a weekly trip to the supermarket, they are developing the trust to open up with you to talk about what may be on their mind.
  • Show your care and affection: Children struggling with sadness often feel alone and empty inside. Support them with your love, hugs, and emotional and physical intimacy.
  • Give children ample opportunities to choose without overwhelming them with too many choices.  Restrictive and rigid parenting where the parent makes a decision without involving the child can leave the child feeling powerless, ultimately leading to low self-esteem.
  • Do not give the message to your children that you love or approve of them only if they are successful. Such a message can leave them feeling vulnerable and afraid of making mistakes, leading to poor self esteem and feelings of sadness. Love them unconditionally and appreciate them for their efforts instead of the outcome. They need to hear time and again that you love them even when you do not approve of their behaviour.

Back to top


  • Keep a notebook to record your child’s behaviours in your home language.  Examples of entries might be: “Instead of waking up in the middle of the night, my child is sleeping peacefully.”; or “There is an increase in the number of fights between the two brothers.”
  • Accentuate the positives of your child. Where possible, focus your discussion with the child on their appropriate behaviour of participating in pleasurable activities/showing happy disposition, and reinforce them for it.
  • Raising your child in a bubble-wrapped environment does not help. When you try too hard to protect your child from the upsets, disappointments and failures that are an inevitable part of life, you are shielding them from developing the resiliency and emotional fortitude needed to deal with the complex dilemmas of life. Instead, try to give them opportunities where they are exposed to a certain amount of risk taking so that they build inner self-confidence in their ability to manage life’s challenges and complex dilemmas. You can be there to guide them! For instance if your child wants to become an engineer and has failed the math test, then sit down with him or her to problem solve. You may want to hire a tutor or enrol the child in summer school. This way you are modeling for them that they need to face the difficulty instead of running away from it.
  • Shape situations in which your child is apt to feel successful. Children may feel overwhelmed if you engage them in activities that do not match their natural talent. For instance, if they are not interested in learning the piano, don’t force them to. Instead encourage them to excel in activities that come to them naturally and they find intrinsically motivating. Fully celebrate with them when they are successful. Giving them opportunities to recognize their strengths and use them helps nurture their sense of mastery and control over their environment.
  • Parents need to work as a team with their child, giving the same message consistently. If the mother feels that soccer lessons are important for the child while the father tends to disagree, then the child is getting a double message, and feels confused and vulnerable to sadness. Try to reach the same consistency with the child’s day care or school. Total consistency may be hard to reach but you can be creative in reaching a compromise.
  • Try to bring normalcy into your home environment. Your child’s challenges may impact your home routines and normal family interactions. While your situation is fragile, it is important to continue to hold family celebrations and social gatherings with which your child feels comfortable. Do not let your child’s challenges become so big that they lead to a total collapse of your home environment.
  • Sad children tend not to talk and to isolate themselves, as they feel they have little to offer. Without being pushy, it is important that you engage your child in a conversation. Talk to them about their day, friends, activities. They may try to close the conversation by saying “I don’t know” so try to be creative in asking questions or in creating situations which may open them up (for instance, talking to them while they are sitting in the back seat and you are driving them to a place of their choice.)
  • Sad children stop participating in activities, show disinterest in school work and may spend enormous time in front of the TV or playing computer games. Too much avoidance of activities may isolate them further and reinforce their negative beliefs about themselves and their outside environment. You may want to introduce them to these activities gradually. For instance, if the child does not want to act in the play, he or she can participate in creating the sets and working on the backdrop.
  • Reduce stress at home. Parental conflicts, regimented activities, major disruptions to the household, and significant changes may exacerbate your child’s sadness.
  • You don’t want to share your child’s sadness with the whole world, but it doesn’t need to be a family secret either. Sharing your struggle with people in your support network who may be helpful to you in dealing with the challenges may actually bring them closer to you. You may want to ask them for real help, such as baby sitting for the sibling or bringing home groceries.
  • Recognize children’s progress when they participate in enjoyable activities, and point it out to them.
  • Talk with the child to find out if something is bothering him or her (for instance, threats at school, bullying, bad grades, changes at home, any loss, abuse). Empathize with them and help them deal with the problem they are facing.
  • Have peers invite your child to participate in pleasurable activities, even if their time together is of short duration.
  • Allow your child to be present during activities without active participation. Reinforce your child for his or her level of participation, no matter how little it is, and expect a gradual increase.
  • Model optimism and flexibility in thinking. Focus on the positives in the situation. Teach the child that, instead of worrying or giving up, it is better to think it through and take appropriate action, to move on instead of getting stuck on problems and grudges. Help children to see that their adversities are not permanent and do not impact all aspects of their life. For instance, if they failed one subject, help them to see other subjects that they passed, and that failing a subject is changeable (not permanent) by working towards a better grade.
  • Sad children also tend to globalize their problems. For instance, if they fail one subject, they think it is going to impact all areas of their academic functioning. Engage in a discussion with them to correct their error of magnifying their problem.
  • Teach your child to avoid negative self-talk. Help them turn negative statements into more positive ones. For instance, instead of saying “Things will never get better”, they could say “Things will work out”. Likewise, “I don’t deserve to be happy” could be changed into “Soon, I will be happy”. Thinking positively leads to positive actions.
  • Help them develop an attitude of gratitude. Noticing small things that they take for granted helps them to remember good things in their life, and how it could have been worse.
  • Help them learn their character strengths and use them in their daily life more. For knowing their strengths and ways to use them, they can go to the website: www.positivepsychology.org . The emphasis here should be to empathize with the child’s problems and encourage use of his or her strengths in dealing with adversities. For instance, a child whose strength is bravery could use this strength to deal with his or her challenges.
  • Modify or adjust situations that cause your child to be reluctant to participate (e.g., degree of difficulty, competition, fear of failure, threat of embarrassment etc.)
  • Make sure that your child is involved in a physical activity. A physical workout mobilizes the body to produce more hormones which elevate one’s mood
  • It is important for parents to know the school and community resources that are available and that your child “is not alone” in his or her struggle. Bring your concerns to the attention of the support team at your child’s school.
  • Parents need to modify and be realistic in their academic goals and expectations for the child. Sadness interferes with the ability to focus and put effort into tasks, which in turn is bound to interfere with the child’s progress. Unrealistic expectations of a child who is already struggling may just add to his or her challenges.
  • It is important not to blame yourself and feel as if you are responsible for your child’s condition. Although it is important to be aware of how you may be contributing to your child’s situation, emphasis should be on problem solving and what can be done about the child.
  • Try to notice and appreciate your child for his or her strengths more. Take time to celebrate your child’s accomplishments.
  • It is important for parents to take time to create opportunities that may be of interest to their child, increase their involvement in the child’s life, and model having fun in life. Taking them out for a vacation, to their favorite places, playing games with them, or watching funny movies together may be helpful.
  • Parents should talk to their child and build a discussion around what may be bothering the child, and positive ways of coping with his or her problems. All feelings should be accepted and discussed. There is no substitute for children being able to discuss angry, jealous, hopeless, sexual, and other feelings with parents.
  • Parents should encourage their child to promote multiple relationships and activities that are likely to build the child’s self esteem. Children are especially vulnerable to feelings of sadness if their self worth depends on one or two sources of self-esteem. Encourage children to feel close to other adults as well as peers. Loss of approval is much less threatening when there are several sources of approval and acceptance.
  • Consider taking a parenting class to gain more ideas and learn with others in a safe and respectful environment. Services are available at community clinics or social services organizations.
  • Recognize your own feelings about your child’s state. Without wanting to, you might have conveyed to the child your feelings of stress, guilt or frustration, and your own feelings of concern and being at a loss. Seek consultation and support for self-care.

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  • Strategies mentioned under the Yellow area should be helpful.
  • Speak to your child’s teacher about the possibility of referring the child for discussion at the School Team meeting to involve school professionals in the intervention.
    • The counsellor assigned by the School Team could work with the family to make a referral for appropriate counselling outside of the school, or to reconnect with any counsellor or Children’s Services worker who might have been involved in the past.
  • Consider with the child’s teacher whether any adjustment to the school day is advisable.
  • Something has gone terribly wrong if the child is showing suicidal thoughts or threatening to hurt someone. If this is the case, you may want to consider seeing your family physician or seeking a referral to a therapist.
    • Please understand that getting the right therapist is most important. While choosing the therapist, you want to ask: What is the training of the therapist, how long have they been practicing, what is their clinical approach, have they worked with clients who have issues similar to your child, what is the length and treatment of therapy and arrangements regarding after-hour crisis.
    • Respect your child’s right to privacy with the therapist. Avoid grilling him or her about what goes on in the therapy as every therapist will inform you if the safety of the child is in jeopardy.
    • Do not try to build a secret alliance with your child’s therapist as that may interfere with the effectiveness of the therapy. Avoid using your child’s therapist for your own therapy.
 
Documenting a child’s behaviour related to sadness is important for a number of reasons:
  1. It demonstrates that you are aware that there is a problem.
  2. It provides a clear and concrete description of the problem.
  3. It provides a vehicle for sharing the problem with the therapist, school administrators, and consultants who are observing and working with your child.
  4. It can be a framework for planning appropriate interventions for the child.
  5. It can support you in your role as a parent. 

Back to top
Back to top


  • Develop a caring and supportive home environment for your teen.
  • Parents should model optimistic and positive attitude. Use of positive language, seeing most situations in a positive light, and positive actions by parents are excellent ways to teach optimism and positive behaviour to children.
  • Be funny and humorous with your teen, even if they say that adults tell ‘bad jokes’. (For instance, watch a funny movie on TV and talk about it).
  • Give choices to your children and set up challenging but reachable goals. Encouraging children to take initiatives, make choices and solve a problem gives them a feeling of mastery.
  • Include fun and enjoyable activities as part of the daily routine. Take some time out on a daily basis to share jokes.
  • Put less emphasis on competition and design activities in a way that siblings have to cooperate with each other.
  • Maintain regular and open communication with your child’s teachers. Share your positive observations in addition to your questions.
  • Encourage your teen to refrain from comparing his or her performance to others. Instead, emphasize attention to personal improvement (e.g., maintain records of own progress rather than comparing work to others).
  • Make sure that your teen is sleeping and eating enough. Watch to make sure he or she is feeling well.
  • Talk to your teen to see if he or she is experiencing some kind of loss (for instance, loss of a friend, parents’ argument that may have seemed frightening, etc).
  • Talk to your child about his or her changed behaviour. Ask if anything is bothering him or her.
  • Reward your teen when he or she thinks optimistically, and ignore pessimistic behaviour.
  • Focus on the positives of your teen and continue to provide avenues where he or she feels successful.
  • Make sure that your teen is exposed to different interesting activities to avoid preoccupation with negative thoughts.
  • Spend alone time with your young adolescent. When children know that you take time to engage in activities with them such as mowing the lawn together, watching a movie or going for a weekly trip to the supermarket, they are developing the trust that to open up with you to talk about what may be on their mind.
  • Show your care and affection: Children struggling with sadness often feel alone and empty inside. Support them with your love, hugs, emotional and physical intimacy.
  • Give your young adolescent ample opportunities to choose without overwhelming them with too many choices. Restrictive and rigid parenting where the parent makes a decision without involving the child can leave the child feel powerless, ultimately leading to low self-esteem.
  • Do not give the message to your children that you love or approve of them only if they are successful. Such a message can leave them feeling vulnerable, afraid of making mistakes leading to poor self esteem and feelings of sadness. Love them unconditionally and appreciate them for their efforts instead of the outcome. At any age, they need to hear that you love them even when you do not approve of their behaviour.

Back to top


  • Keep a notebook to record your teen’s behaviours. For example, an entry could say, “Instead of waking up in the middle of the night, my child is sleeping peacefully, or “There is an increase in the number of fights between the two brothers.”
  •  Accentuate the positives of your youngster. Where possible, focus your discussion with children on their appropriate behaviour of participating in pleasurable activities/showing happy disposition, and reinforce them for it.
  • Raising your child in a bubble-wrapped environment does not help. When you try too hard to protect your children from the upsets, disappointments and failures that are an inevitable part of life, you are shielding them from developing the resiliency and emotional fortitude which is needed to deal with complex dilemmas of life. Instead, try to give them opportunities where they are exposed to a certain amount of risk taking so that they build inner self-confidence in their ability to manage life’s challenges and complex dilemmas. You can be there to guide them! For instance if your young adolescent wants to become an engineer and has failed the math test, then sit down with them to problem solve. You may want to hire a tutor or enrol them in summer school. This way you are modeling for them that they need to face the difficulty instead of running away from it.
  • Shape situations in which your teen is apt to feel successful. Children may feel overwhelmed if you engage them in activities that do not match their natural talent. For instance, if they are not interested in learning the piano, don’t force them to. Instead encourage them to excel in activities that come to them naturally and they find intrinsically motivating. Fully celebrate with them when they are successful. Giving them opportunities to recognize and use their strengths helps nurture their sense of mastery and control over their environment.
  • Parents need to work as a team with their child, giving the same message consistently. If the mother feels that soccer lessons are important while the father tends to disagree, then the child is getting double message, feels confused and vulnerable to sadness. Try to reach the same consistency with your child’s school. Total consistency may be hard to reach but you can be creative in reaching a compromise.
  • Try to bring normalcy into your home environment. Your teen’s challenges may impact your home routines and normal family interactions. While your situation is fragile, it is important to continue to hold family celebrations and social gatherings with which your teen feels comfortable. Do not let your child’s challenges become so big that they lead to a total collapse of your home environment.
  • Teens dealing with sadness tend not to talk and to isolate themselves. Without being pushy, it is important that you engage your teen in a conversation. Talk about their day, friends, activities. They may try to close the conversation by saying “I don’t know”, so try to be creative in asking questions or in creating situations that may open them up (for instance talking to them while you are driving them to a place of their choice.)
  • Sad youngsters stop participating in activities, show disinterest in school work and may spend enormous time in front of the TV or playing computer games. Too much avoidance of activities may isolate them further and reinforce their negative beliefs about themselves and their outside environment. You may want to introduce them to these activities gradually. For instance, if they do not want to act in the play, they can participate in creating the sets and working on the backdrop.
  • Reduce stress at home. Parental conflicts, regimented activities, major disruptions to the household, or any significant changes may make your teen’s sadness worse.
  • You don’t want to share your teen’s sadness with the whole world, but you don’t have to make it a family secret either. Sharing your struggle with people in your supportive network who may be helpful to you in dealing with the challenges may actually bring them closer to you. You may want to ask them for real help, such as baby sitting for the sibling or bringing home groceries.
  • Recognize children’s progress when they participate in enjoyable activities, and point it out to them.
  • Talk with the young adolescent to find out if something is bothering him or her (for instance, threats at school, bullying, difficulties with work, bad grades, changes at home, any loss, abuse). Show empathy, and help the teen deal with the problem he or she is facing.
  • Encourage peers to invite your youngster to participate in pleasurable activities.
  • Allow your teen to be present during activities without active participation. Reinforce him or her for his or her level of participation, no matter how little it is, and expect a gradual increase.
  • Model optimism and flexibility in thinking. Focus on the positives in the situation. Instead of worry or giving up, teach children to think it through and take appropriate action, to move on instead of getting stuck on problems and grudges. Help them to see that their adversities are not permanent and do not impact all aspects of their life. For instance if they failed one subject, help them to see how they passed other subjects and that failing a subject is changeable (not permanent) by working towards a better grade.
  • Sad children and youth also tend to globalize their problems, and are self-critical in their evaluations. For instance, if they fail one subject they think it is going to impact all areas of their academic functioning. Engage in a discussion with them to correct their error of magnifying their problem.
  • Teach your teen to avoid negative self-talk. Help them turn negative statements into more positive ones. For instance, instead of saying “Things will never get better”, they could say “Things will work out”. Likewise, “I don’t deserve to be happy” could be changed into “Soon, I will be happy”. Thinking positively leads to positive actions.
  • Help your youngster develop an attitude of gratitude. Noticing small things that they take for granted helps them to remember good things in their life, and how it could have been worse.
  • Help them learn their character strengths and use them in their daily life more. For knowing their strengths and ways to use them, they can go to the website: www.positivepsychology.org . The emphasis here should be to empathize with the youngster’s problems and encourage use of his or her strengths in dealing with adversities. For instance, a young adolescent whose strength is bravery could use this strength to deal with his or her challenges.
  • Modify or adjust situations that cause your teen to be reluctant to participate (e.g., degree of difficulty, competition, fear of failure, threat of embarrassment etc.)
  • Make sure the teen is involved in a physical activity. A physical workout mobilizes the body to produce more hormones that elevate one’s mood
  • It is important for parents to know the school and community resources that are available and that their child “is not alone” in his or her struggle. Bring your concerns to the attention of the school support team at your school.
  • Parents need to modify and be realistic in their academic goals and expectations for the teen. Sadness interferes with the ability to focus and put effort into tasks, which is bound to interfere with a young adolescent’s progress. Unrealistic expectations of a child who is already struggling may just add to his or her challenges.
  • It is important not to blame yourself and feel as if you are responsible for child’s condition. Although it is important to be aware of how you may be contributing to your child’s situation, emphasis should be on problem solving and what can be done about the child.
  • Try to notice and appreciate your teen for his or her strengths more. Take time to celebrate the youngster’s accomplishments.
  • It is important for parents to take time to create opportunities that may be of interest to their teen, increase their involvement in the child’s life and model having fun in life. Taking them out for a vacation, to their favorite places, playing games with them, or watching funny movies together may be helpful.
  • Parents should talk to their teen to build a discussion around what may be bothering him or her, and teach positive ways of coping with problems. All feelings should be accepted and discussed. There is no substitute for youngsters being able to discuss angry, jealous, hopeless, sexual, and other feelings with parents.
  • Parents should encourage their teen to promote multiple relationships and activities that are likely to build his or her self esteem. Youngsters are especially vulnerable to feelings of sadness if their self worth depends on one or two sources of self-esteem. Encourage your teen to feel close to other adults as well as peers. Loss of approval is much less threatening when there are several sources of approval and acceptance.
  • Consider taking a parenting class. Services are available at community clinics or social services organizations.
  • Recognize your own feelings about your teen’s state. Without wanting to, you might have been conveying your feelings of stress, guilt or frustration. Seek consultation and support for self-care.

Back to top


  • Strategies in the Yellow Light area may be helpful.
  • Speak to your child’s teacher about the possibility of referring the child for discussion at the School Team meeting to involve school professionals in the intervention.
    • The counsellor assigned by the School Team could work with the family to make a referral for appropriate counselling outside of the school, or to reconnect with any counsellor or Children’s Services worker who might have been involved in the past.
  • Consider with the child’s teacher whether any adjustment to the school day is advisable.
  • Something has gone terribly wrong if the young adolescent is showing suicidal thoughts or threatening to hurt someone. If this is the case, you may want to consider seeing your family physician or seeking a referral to a therapist.
    • Please understand that getting the right therapist is most important. While choosing the therapist, you want to ask: What is the training of the therapist, how long have they been practicing, what is their clinical approach, have they worked with clients who have issues similar to your child, what is the length and treatment of therapy and arrangements regarding after-hour crisis.
    • Respect your child’s right to privacy with the therapist. Avoid grilling him or her about what goes on in the therapy as every therapist will inform you if the safety of the child is in jeopardy.
    • Do not try to build a secret alliance with your child’s therapist as that may interfere with the effectiveness of the therapy. Avoid using your child’s therapist for your own therapy.
 
Documenting a child’s behaviour related to sadness is important for a number of reasons:
  1. It demonstrates that you are aware that there is a problem.
  2. It provides a clear and concrete description of the problem.
  3. It provides a vehicle for sharing the problem with the therapist, school administrators, parents and consultants.
  4. It can be a framework for planning appropriate interventions for the child.
  5. It can support you in your role as a parent. 

Back to top
Back to top


  • Develop a caring and supportive home environment for your teen that takes their needs into account.
  • Parents should model optimistic and positive attitude. Use of positive language, seeing most situations in the positive light, and positive actions by parents are excellent ways to teach optimism and positive behaviour to children.
  • Be funny and humorous with your teen (for instance, watching a funny movie on TV).
  • Give choices to your children and set up challenging but reachable goals. Encouraging children to take initiatives, make choices and solve a problem gives them a feeling of mastery.
  • Include fun and enjoyable activities as part of the daily routine. Take some time out on a daily basis to share jokes.
  • Put less emphasis on competition and structure activities in a way where siblings have to cooperate with each other.
  • Maintain regular and open communication with your adolescent’s teachers.
  • Encourage your teen to refrain from comparing his or her performance to others. Instead, emphasize attention to personal improvement (e.g., maintain records of own progress rather than comparing work to others).
  • Make sure that your teen is sleeping and eating enough and that he or she is feeling well.
  • Talk to your adolescent to see if he or she is experiencing some kind of loss (for instance loss of a friend, concern about parents’ relationship, etc.)
  • Talk to your adolescent about his or her changed behaviour. Ask if anything is bothering him or her.
  • Reward your adolescent when he or she thinks optimistically, and ignore pessimistic behaviour.
  • Focus on the positives of your adolescent and continue to provide avenues where he or she feels successful.
  • Make sure that your adolescent is exposed to different interesting activities to avoid preoccupation with negative thoughts.
  • Spend alone time with your children. When they know you take time to engage in activities with them, such as mowing the lawn together, watching a movie or going for a weekly trip to the supermarket, they are developing the trust to open up with you to talk about what may be on their mind.
  • Show your care and affection: young people struggling with sadness often feel alone and empty inside. Support them with your love, hugs, and emotional and physical intimacy.
  • Give your children ample opportunities to choose without overwhelming them with too many choices. Restrictive and rigid parenting where the parent makes a decision without involving the child can leave the youngster feeling powerless, ultimately leading to low self-esteem.
  • Do not give the message to your children that you love or approve of them only if they are successful. Such a message can leave them feeling vulnerable and afraid of making mistakes, leading to poor self esteem and feelings of sadness. Love them unconditionally and appreciate them for their efforts instead of the outcome. Even when they state that they want less contact, tell them that they are loved, although you may not approve of their behaviour.

Back to top


  • Keep a notebook to record your child’s behaviours, in your home language. Examples of entries might be, “Instead of waking up in the middle of the night, my child is sleeping peacefully” or “There is an increase in the number of fights between the two brothers.”
  • Accentuate the positives of your youngster. Where possible, focus your discussion with adolescents on their appropriate behaviour of participating in pleasurable activities/showing happy disposition, and reinforce them for it.
  • Raising your child in a bubble-wrapped environment does not help. When you try too hard to protect your child from the upsets, disappointments and failures that are an inevitable part of life, you are shielding them from developing the resiliency and emotional fortitude needed to deal with complex dilemmas of life. Instead, try to give them opportunities where they are exposed to a certain amount of risk taking so that they build inner self-confidence in their ability to manage life’s challenges and complex dilemmas. You can be there to guide them! For instance if your youngster wants to become an engineer and has failed the math test, then sit down with them to problem solve. You may want to hire a tutor or enrol them in the summer school. This way you are modeling for them that they need to face the difficulty instead of running away from it.
  • Shape situations in which your child is apt to feel successful. Adolescents may feel overwhelmed if you engage them in activities that do not match their natural talents. For instance, if they are not interested in learning the piano, don’t force them to. Instead, encourage them to excel in activities that come to them naturally and they find intrinsically motivating. Fully celebrate with them when they are successful. Giving them opportunities to recognize their strengths and use them helps nurture their sense of mastery and control over their environment.
  • Parents need to work as a team with their adolescent, giving the same message consistently. If the mother feels that soccer lessons are important while the father tends to disagree, then the youngster is getting double message, feels confused and vulnerable to sadness. Try to reach the same consistency with the adolescent’s school. Total consistency may be hard to reach but you can be creative in reaching a compromise.
  • Try to bring normalcy into your home environment. Your adolescent’s challenges may affect your home routines and normal family interactions. While your situation is fragile, it is important to continue to hold family celebrations and social gatherings with which your child feels comfortable. Do not let your adolescent’s challenges become so big that they lead to a total collapse of your home environment.
  • Teens dealing with sadness tend not to talk and to isolate themselves. Without being pushy, it is important that you engage your child in a conversation. Talk about their day, friends, activities. They may try to close the conversation by saying “I don’t know” so try to be creative in asking questions or in creating situations which may open them up (for instance, talking to them while you are driving them to a place of their choice.)
  • Sad youngsters stop participating in activities, show disinterest in school work and may spend enormous time in front of the TV or playing computer games. Too much avoidance of activities may isolate them further and reinforce their negative beliefs about themselves and their outside environment. You may want to introduce them to these activities gradually. For instance, if they do not want to act in the play, they can participate in creating the sets and working on the backdrop.
  • Reduce stress at home. Parental conflicts, regimented activities, major disruptions to the household, or any significant changes may make your adolescent’s sadness, confusion and self-blame even worse.
  • You don’t want to share your adolescent’s sadness with the whole world, but you don’t need to make it a family secret either. Sharing your struggle with people in your support network who may be helpful to you in dealing with the challenges may actually bring them closer to you. You may want to ask them for real help, such as baby sitting for the sibling or bringing home groceries.
  • Recognize your adolescent’s progress when he or she participates in enjoyable activities, and point it out to them.
  • Talk with the adolescent to see if something is bothering him or her (for instance, threats at school, bullying, difficulties with work, bad grades, changes at home, any loss, abuse). Show empathy, and help the adolescent deal with the problem he or she is facing.
  • Encourage peers to invite your adolescent to participate in pleasurable activities.
  • Allow adolescents to be present during activities without active participation. Reinforce them for their level of participation, no matter how little it is, and expect a gradual increase.
  • Model optimism and flexibility in thinking. Focus on the positives in the situation. Instead of worry or giving up, teach the adolescent to think it through and take appropriate action, to move on instead of getting stuck on problems and grudges. Help them to see that their adversities are not permanent and do not impact all aspects of their life. For instance, if they failed one subject, help them to see that they passed other subjects and that failing a subject is changeable (not permanent) by working towards a better grade.
  • Sad children also tend to globalize their problems. For instance, if they fail one subject they think it is going to impact all areas of their academic functioning. Engage in a discussion with them to correct their error of magnifying their problem.
  • Teach adolescents to avoid negative self-talk. Help them turn negative statements into more positive ones. For instance instead of saying “Things will never get better”, they could say “Things will work out”. Likewise, “I don’t deserve to be happy” could be changed into “Soon, I will be happy”. Thinking positively leads to positive actions.
  • Help your youngster develop an attitude of gratitude. Noticing small things that they take for granted helps them to remember good things in their life, and how it could have been worse.
  • Help them learn their character strengths and use them in their daily life more. For knowing their strengths and ways to use them, they can go to the website: www.positivepsychology.org . The emphasis here should be to empathize with the adolescent’s problems and help him use his or her strengths in dealing with adversities. For instance a youngster whose strength is bravery could use this strength to deal with his or her challenges.
  • Modify or adjust situations that cause your adolescent to be reluctant to participate (e.g., degree of difficulty, competition, fear of failure, threat of embarrassment etc.)
  • Make sure the adolescent is involved in a physical activity in or outside of school. A physical workout mobilizes the body to produce more hormones which elevate one’s mood
  • It is important for parents to know the school and community resources that are available and that their child “is not alone” in his or her struggle.  Bring your concerns to the attention of the school support team at your child’s school.
  • Parents need to modify and be realistic in their academic goals and expectations for the adolescent. Sadness interferes with the ability to focus and put effort into tasks, which is bound to interfere with a youngster’s progress. Unrealistic expectations of an adolescent who is already struggling may add to his or her challenges.
  • It is important not to blame yourself and feel as if you are responsible for your adolescent’s condition. Although it is important to be aware of how you may be contributing to the situation, emphasis should be on problem solving and what can be done about the adolescent.
  • Try to notice and appreciate your adolescent for his or her strengths more. Take time to celebrate his or her accomplishments.
  • It is important for parents to take time to create opportunities that may be of interest to their adolescent, increase their involvement in his or her life, and model having fun in life. Taking them out for a vacation, to their favorite places, playing games with them, or watching funny movies together may be helpful.
  • Parents should talk to their adolescent to build a discussion around what may be bothering him or her, and teach positive ways of coping with their problems. All feelings should be accepted and discussed. There is no substitute for children being able to discuss angry, jealous, hopeless, sexual, and other feelings with parents.
  • Parents should encourage their adolescent to promote multiple relationships and activities that are likely to build his or her self esteem. Young people are especially vulnerable to feelings of sadness if their self worth depends on one or two sources of self-esteem. Encourage adolescents to feel close to other adults as well as peers. Loss of approval is much less threatening when there are several sources of approval and acceptance.
  • Consider taking a parenting class. Services are available at community clinics or social services organizations.
  • Recognize your own feelings about your child’s state. Without wanting to, you might have been conveying your feelings of stress, guilt or frustration. Seek consultation and support for self-care.

Back to top


  • Strategies mentioned under the Yellow Light area should be helpful.
  • Speak to your child’s teacher about the possibility of referring the child for discussion at the School Team meeting to involve school professionals in the intervention.
    • The counsellor assigned by the School Team could work with the family to make a referral for appropriate counselling outside of the school, or to reconnect with any counsellor or Children’s Services worker who might have been involved in the past.
  • Consider with the child’s teacher whether any adjustment to the school day is advisable.
  • Something has gone terribly wrong if the young adolescent is showing suicidal thoughts or threatening to hurt someone. If this is the case, you may want to consider seeing your family physician or seeking a referral to a therapist.
    • Please understand that getting the right therapist is most important. While choosing the therapist, you want to ask: What is the training of the therapist, how long have they been practicing, what is their clinical approach, have they worked with clients who have issues similar to your child, what is the length and treatment of therapy and arrangements regarding after-hour crisis.
    • Respect your child’s right to privacy with the therapist. Avoid grilling him or her about what goes on in the therapy as every therapist will inform you if the safety of the child is in jeopardy.
    • Do not try to build a secret alliance with your child’s therapist as that may interfere with the effectiveness of the therapy. Avoid using your child’s therapist for your own therapy.

Documenting a child’s behaviour related to sadness is important for a number of reasons:
  1. It demonstrates that you are aware that there is a problem.
  2. It provides a clear and concrete description of the problem.
  3. It provides a vehicle for sharing the problem with the therapist, school administrators, parents and consultants.
  4. It can be a framework for planning appropriate interventions for the child.
  5. It can support you in your role as a parent. 


Back to top
Back to top