Sadness: Young Children & Emotions

This post is the second emotion specific post in a series of posts that I am writing about supporting children under age 5 in learning about and coping with their emotions.    This post focuses on sadness.  You can read the introduction to this series and find the other posts in this series here.

Sadness is the word I have chosen to use for this post, but you may use a different word to describe this same experience.  Some parents describe their children experiencing “funks” or appearing withdrawn.

How can you tell when your child is feeling sad?  What does your child say or do when experiencing sadness?

A sad child may cry, but sadness also presents it’s self in many other ways.  A child who is feeling sad may appear quiet, withdrawn, tired or disinterested in things they usually enjoy.  Some children express their sadness verbally and share more gloomy thoughts than they typically would.   It is important to remember that feeling sad is a normal human experience and all children will experience feelings of sadness.

Although we know sadness is a normal emotion, It can be distressing to see our children feeling sad.  It can be tempting to do everything we can to make our child feel better quickly, but that may actually hurt our children in the long run.  It is important that children learn from a young age that sadness is a normal feeling and be given the space they need to process their sadness and learn how to cope with sad feeling in healthy ways.  If we always “fix” whatever is contributing to their sad feelings, our children may not know how to manage their sadness as they get older.

Note: If your child appears to have prolonged periods of sadness that are interfering with doing typical activities on a regular basis that may be reason to reach out for further support.

How can I help my children when they experience sadness?

Before your child is sad:

  • Focus on creating an environment where your child feels comfortable sharing their emotions.  This previous post about building your child’s feelings vocabulary may be helpful.
  • Normalize feelings of sadness.    Share an appropriate examples of a time that you were sad and how you dealt with that emotion.
  • Help your children understand how sadness can be helpful to us.  I always tell children that all emotions, even those that are unpleasant, are good sources of information.    The movie Inside Out did a great job explaining this message to children.
  • Teach your child about healthy ways to express and cope with sadness when they are in good spirits.  This is the best time for your child to absorb the messages you are trying to share.

In the moment:

  • Help your children label their emotion in the moment.
  • Assess how ready  your child is to talk about what has contributed to their sad feeling.  Some children need a little space before they are able to process.    If your child is ready, support him or her in processing what has upset them.  Listen and provide support.   Don’t be too quick to offer  a solution.
  • Guide your child through a coping or calming strategy.  Check out this previous post if you would like some examples of possible coping strategies for children.

What other tips do you have for helping children under 5 cope with sadness?   Feel free to share your tip in the comments below.

Check back soon for the next post in this series.   Feel free to leave me a comment letting me know what other emotions you hope I will address.


If you are in the Eagan, Minnesota area and would like to have some hands on support in implementing some of the above strategies, you may want to consider the upcomingEmotions & Me psychoeducational group for children ages 2-5 and a caregiver.   During each session of this four week group we will focus on exploring one emotion and age-appropriate ways to express and cope with that emotion.  Sadness is one of the emotions on the agenda.

2 thoughts on “Sadness: Young Children & Emotions

  1. I think when my son was young (he is grown and out on his own now), I not only encouraged him to experience what he was feeling, but also how to channel that feeling into something good. Then, I worked hard to acknowledge his sadness or another feeling.

  2. That is wonderful, Julie. We definitely want to encourage our children to feel their emotions and use that experience to move forward versus stuffing their feelings or becoming stuck. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.