(*This blog post makes reference to sensitive topics like self-harming.)
I am going to be real. I am sick to death of the way society treats sadness. Like it is some sort of plague we need to force ourselves to ignore. Fun fact: it’s not. Sadness is a perfectly normal part of being human and a healthy way to deal with overwhelming emotions. Shutting them down or ignoring them isn’t.
Teaching our children – particularly our boys – that crying is a weakness has to stop. If anything, it takes a lot of guts to admit that you feel sad and to let the tears out. Tears release chemicals like oxytocin and endorphins that can ease emotional and physical pain. Letting them out and feeling sadness allows us to deal with situations or emotions in a healthy way and can allow us to move on.
I want you to vocalise something that makes you sad. Do you understand where that sadness comes from? Do you know how to deal with it? Now think of your child. How do they deal with sadness? Do they express it or bottle it up? Sadness is a messy emotion and can be very confusing even as an adult. Imagine how it feels for our children.
It is easy to just say that our children are just sad as depression can be a scary thought. But sometimes we need to have that conversation. Did you know that mental health issues like anxiety and depression affect 1 in 7 children in Australia alone? Neither did I. Many years later, I can admit that I was one of those statistics.
I would shut down when things got too much. I went into my own world and ignored everything around me. I wasn’t interested in a lot of the things that I had been previously passionate about and I had no appetite. I also used to self-harm. The sad thing was that my parents had no idea about any of it until my mother accidentally saw the marks on my arms about a year after I started doing it. I was 13 at the time. My doctor believed my mood and mind set was due to a chemical imbalance and they helped me find what would work for me. At 21 however, I was officially diagnosed with depression and was told I had probably been suffering since I was 12.
Nowadays, I am doing better. I still have my dark days and sometimes everything feels too much, but my support system (family and friends) are brilliant at pulling me out. I am also very aware of the signs and know when I need to ask for help. It took a long few years, but I found my light at the end of the tunnel.
The first step is to realise and recognise that sadness and depression are vastly different.
Sadness: you can usually pin point to a specific event or situation. It resolves over time and even when you are sad, you can find happiness in other aspects in life.
Depression: can seem like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. It affects everything from energy levels and concentration, to sleep, mood and appetite as well as make you highly self-critical.
It can be hard to know when your child is depressed or just sad as children can hide or ignore their feelings surprisingly easier than adults can. It is important to keep an eye out for:
- Lack of interest in things that normally sparked interest/joy
- Out of character angry outbursts with no logical explanation
- Feeling worthless or guilty – blaming themselves
- They stop seeing friends or being social
- Negative thoughts that don’t seem to go away – including those of self-harm
- Trouble concentrating at school and at home
- Headaches and stomach aches without reason
- Drastic changes in appetite and weight
- Lethargic and sleeping problems
It is important to know that there are a wide range of professional help out there for you and your child. The first steps however can be:
Empathise and normalise their feelings: Children need to understand that what they are feeling is okay and normal.
Validate their feelings: Even if they are upset over the smaller things, let them know that you understand, and they are okay to feel what they feel.
Help them recognise and express their emotions: ParentalEQ BackPack app’s Wheels of Emotions and Detective Thinking modules can help greatly with this.
Help them regulation their emotions: Practice self-awareness with them and how to calm down before acting.
Lead by example: show it is safe and normal to cry and feel sad. This can encourage them to show you their emotions as well. Check in with them as well.
Don’t forget to keep your children close during times of great emotional upheaval, like a death or separation and remind them that you are there with arms ready to hug and ears ready to listen.
ParentalEQ BackPack App has a multitude of activities and knowledge modules to help break down and understand your children’s mental wellbeing. The “Sadness and Depression” Knowledge module has some great advice on how to support your children during sadness and when to seek professional help.
As kids grow to understand their emotional world, they’ll come to realise that their emotions don’t define them – they can help to empower them.
Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800
Lifeline – 13 11 14
From the heart & soul – Casey Luxford