All feelings are important some are just more comfortable than others. Helping your child recognize their unique feeling thumbprint will empower self-expression and empathy within friendships. I am compelled to write about sad feelings this week because my daughter’s long term high school relationship has just ended one week before prom. If you are not sure how that might feel I’ll give you a small clue. SO SAD!
Everyone has a sad day, and at times a predominantly sad week. It is sometimes a message of loss—“I was hopeful that I would get into the talent show and I didn’t make it.” Sad feelings indicate a disappointment and help us to clarify our values and motivations. If I am sad because I didn’t make the talent show, I really wanted it. Sadness can be a message of empathy (I care deeply about someone who is going through a rough time). If I am sad because Jack’s mom died it is because I care about his feelings and can imagine that it is painful to be him.
A common mistake in parenting is to rush in with cheerfulness. The message to avoid sad feelings or “get over it,” is disrespectful to the child’s attachment to an idea, or a person. In Oklahoma following the bombing, the predominant mood for the whole community was sad. It took time for the sad feelings to turn to grieving feelings, but no one was rushing in to change the mood. It was an appropriate and universal emotion. It helped us connect with one another at a difficult time and it was healing.
Brief sad feelings can give us feedback of something that is missing in our life. If your child had a planned play date with a friend and it was cancelled, it is okay to be sad. Certainly there is the rational explanation “Johnny has pink eye, we can’t play with him until he is better.” but your child will still feel sad for awhile If your child is continuously sad for a whole day about this disappointment either Johnny is really special to your child, or you need to help schedule more frequent play dates. Your child may be crying out for more peer contact. Acknowledging this emotion will help you both understand the value of people and core principles that you hold.
In the case of the high school break up, it is helpful to be present but not intrusive in the life of your teenager. Although you may be tempted to interfere (facebook surf), or spout opinions about the situation (7 days before prom and you want him back?!) - don’t do it! Listening and providing Kleenex and chocolate ice cream is more supportive. Asking questions without judgement and allowing your child to talk when they are ready helps them to learn from the message of sadness. It is really sad to see your child sad. It is uncomfortable to express empathy without “sharing wisdom” but this is an opportunity for you to show how empathy works.
It’s okay to have some chocolate ice cream too.
What has sadness taught you lately?