How to Help Teens With Sadness

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What do you do when your teen comes to you feeling sad? Mostly we try to cheer them up by saying things like, "Don't worry, everything will be OK." We try to get their minds off their sadness by making them laugh or changing the subject. When we see our teen in pain we want to stop the bad feelings as quickly as possible. However, these good intentions aren't necessarily helpful. Here are ways to help your teen understand and deal with sadness.

  • Be patient. There are no quick fixes. The only way to get through down times is to sit with the pain. As a parent, it is up to you to hold the space for sadness. Don't rush in too quickly to fix the problem. Encourage your teen to feel the pain, to express it when she's ready. Be with him, but don't try to cheer him up too quickly.

  • Let tears flow. It may sound backward, but the best thing you can do for your teen is to encourage your teen to feel sad, to cry. Crying is good, natural and healing. Whether it is a breakup with a girlfriend or boyfriend, a disappointing loss of the election for student body office, a cut from the baseball team or being ditched by friends, teens do feel sad. Tell them that you are there for them. There is no need to feel ashamed for being sad or for crying.

  • Speak of sadness. Your teen needs you to talk about sadness. It's reassuring to hear that a heavy heart is natural, part of the human condition. Teens sometimes feel as if they are drowning in sadness and that they are the only ones who feel this way. Let them know that they are not alone. Sadness comes and goes. One day it's here and then it's gone. Sadness is a sign of a tender heart; a tender heart is beautiful.

  • Let them know they're not alone. One night, 17-year-old Claire and her girlfriends were driving around, everyone laughing, yet for some reason, Molly felt sad inside and was quiet. When one of the girls asked what was wrong with her, Molly burst into tears. She was sad and she didn't know why. Liza gave Molly a hug and said, "Do you think I'm happy? I feel sad too. I'm just pretending to feel happy, hoping it will make me feel better." This was a big revelation for all the girls.

  • Share. We all feel heartsick at times, depressed for no reason, lonely even when we have friends. Let your teen know that they are not alone in their sadness. Share a sad moment from your own teen years and how you recovered.

  • Encourage rest. A teen needs to know that it is OK to rest and go slow. When you have a physical injury, you give your body time to rest and recover. When you have an emotional trauma, like your boyfriend breaking up with you, a fight with a friend or parents' divorce, you will be upset and need rest too. Encourage your teen to take it easy, take a gentle walk, take a nap, listen to soft music, skip a day of school. The more you take care of body and soul during a difficult emotional time, the sooner you will bounce back.

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