Sitting with Sadness: Teaching our Children that Negative Emotions are Okay

You find out you didn’t get the promotion you wanted. Maybe your best friend moved away or your long-time pet passed away. How do you cope with the sadness that you inevitably will experience in those moments? As a parent, it’s hard enough to experience your own sadness, let alone watch your child experience it. You can probably feel your heart breaking when your child comes home in tears because they failed a test or a kid at school teased them. Any and all of these events can easily leave us feeling a deep sadness. The question is, do you let yourself feel it? And more importantly, do you let your child?

I’m not suggesting that as parents we should allow our children to wallow in sorrow or ignore their distress. However, sometimes in our efforts to protect our children from feeling down, we forget that sometimes, feeling sad isn’t actually a bad thing. Experiencing sadness can be healthy and sometimes actually help us to to feel happy and to heal faster from painful experiences.

The recent family flick, Inside Out, does a wonderful job highlighting just how important sadness is and the potential consequences of shutting it down. If you’re a parent and you haven’t seen it yet, put it on your must-watch list. It perfectly showcases why we all need to allow ourselves the space to experience painful emotions sometimes.

In fact, sometimes when we try too hard to protect our children from difficult emotions like sadness, hurt and disappointment, we inadvertently send them the message that this feeling isn’t okay. We may accidentally teach them to suppress this feeling and as a result, not learn how to cope effectively with it.

So many of us try to escape sadness in all sorts of unhelpful ways, from drinking too much to working too hard. Sometimes, the solution is simply being okay being sad. So the next time you have the urge to swoop in to save your child from sadness, pause for a moment. Perhaps all they need is a shoulder to cry on and a parent to hug them.


Anna Coutts,

Anna CouttsFeb-2015

About Anna 

Anna is a youth and family therapist based out of Toronto, Ontario. She splits her time working at an accredited children’s mental health agency and running her online private practice, Coutts Online Counselling.

November 20, 2015

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