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What to do With Sadness


While it is nice to be happy, sadness is a healthy and normal emotional experience alerting us to what is needed from self and others. Sadness is necessary to having a healthy full range of human emotions. Sadness differs from depression. Sadness is typically triggered by a difficult, hurtful, challenging, or disappointing event, experience, or situation. The emotion of sadness tends to be distractible. Behaviors can vary from having less energy/motivation, withdrawing, crying, having anger/irritability, being rigid, or talking less, to name a few. As children and teens develop skills to navigate sadness, their resilience to life challenges can increase.

Helping Those in Elementary School When experiencing sadness, sometimes distraction, thinking positively or taking a different perspective can help; however at times it is difficult, if not seemingly impossible, to shift attention and emotions. This occurs due to a change in brain functioning as the regions of the brain responsible for problem-solving, communicating, starting and completing tasks, understanding different points of view, and regulating emotions, among other essential tasks, work far less effectively. Physical movement can help reactivate these areas of the brain, increasing the ability to talk about what is occurring, why they are feeling sad, and finding solutions to the problems. Creativity can be used in moving the body. Some ideas include:

  • Jumping Jacks

  • Running

  • Riding a bike

  • Bouncing a balloon or beach ball

  • Pounding play dough flat

  • Passing a ball

  • Throwing rolled up socks at a safe surface

After moving, children are more able to shift their focus and emotions.

Helping Those in Middle SchoolTalking about and understanding emotions is a skill. As you help your child explore answers to the following questions, you help their ability to talk about and resolve feelings in a healthy and productive.

What am I sad about? Sometimes it helps to consider, "When did I begin to feel sad? Where was I? Who was I interacting with?"

What am I concerned this means?

Is this something I want to feel differently about? If so, what am I willing to do?

Is there anything I can do to change the situation?

Are there other ways to think about the situation?


Helping Those in High School“You don’t get it” can be a phrase heard or felt by those expressing their sadness. Feeling heard or understood can decrease emotional intensity, and increase connection. The following techniques for initially responding to a person who is feeling sad can sound simple. To do it well, it is important to apply these techniques without giving advice or tying to cheer the other person up. It is after the person feels the listener hears and understands (though not necessarily agrees with) what is being communicated that he or she is more likely to receive advice. Dr. David Burns of Stanford recommends the following:

  • The Disarming Technique: Find some truth in what the person is saying, even if it is unreasonable or unfair.

  • Thought and Feeling Empathy: Put yourself in the person’s shoes, trying to see the world through their eyes, and communicate you can see this. Communicate this by thought empathy, which is done by paraphrasing the speaker’s words, and feeling empathy, which is acknowledging how the person is probably feeling, based on what they said. Ask throughout the conversation if what has been heard is accurate. Allow for clarifications.

  • Inquiry: Ask gentle, probing questions to learn more about what the person is thinking and feeling.


Disclaimer—The information in this newsletter is a starting place and might not be effective for every child or every situation. Mental health conditions are complex, as people differ widely in their conditions and responses, and interactions with other conditions. Interventions and treatments are best evaluated and adapted by a qualified clinician to meet individual needs. This article was written by me, Jessica Williamson, LCSW for a newsletter by Hope4Utah, a nonprofit organization providing trainings, resources and supports to prevent, intervene, and respond to suicides and to improve mental health. I specializes in mental health treatment of children, teens, and adults at my private practice in South Jordan, Utah, Inner Peace Counseling of Utah.

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