Wednesday’s child is full of woe. And woeful he or she may be, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to be medicated for depression. Sorrow is part of life, and if Wednesday’s the day, then let’s strive to better understand, and love, our sad child on this melancholy weekday.
Sadness has a way of finding us wherever we go and whatever we do. We go on holiday, and everyone gets grumpy. We plan a nice day but the kids fight and complain. We make an innocent joke, a bit of harmless sarcasm and BAM! Our child ends up weeping and we feel ashamed. Or our kid comes home from school and tells us that no one wants to be their friend, or sit with them at lunch, or that they were deliberately excluded by some other kids, and it breaks our hearts… partly because we’ve felt those sad and painful feelings and the one person we wanted never to have to taste them was our child.
Tips for getting it right on Wednesday include:
- Contain, don’t “fix.” This means listening and mentally thinking, “give that sorrow to me and I’ll hold it until you’re ready to deal with it.” This can be very tiring, but it helps sad kids enormously.
- Mirror—don’t correct perception. This means that when a child says that they feel like the world is bleak and nobody loves them, we say, “It must hurts so bad to feel like the world is all gloomy and mean and like nobody cares about you.” You might think that this would reinforce sorrow, but it paradoxically helps lift it. Trying to “cheer” sad children up is a cardinal mistake and tends to deepen feelings of being misunderstood, not really heard and alone.
- Target improving self-esteem. Instead of “I’m so proud of you,” go with “I hope you feel proud of yourself.” This sends the message that what your child thinks of himself or herself is more important than impressing us parents or winning our approval (which might make them inauthentic, and contribute to unhappiness).
- Remember that kids (and grown-ups) who feel good about themselves are kind. Thus when our children are cruel, irritable and oppositional, while we must set limits and provide consequences (never much fun, but that’s what Wednesday is for sometimes), we can also keep in mind, and say to our kids, that we recognize they are feeling bad about themselves when they act out. They may deny it, and take offense, but kindly and consistently insisted upon, this helps kids develop compassion and understanding for themselves.
- Learn to tolerate your own sad feelings. Take note if you drink, eat, shop or work too much and consider the possibility that you are avoiding underlying feelings of sorrow and emptiness. Welcome to the club, but do your best to slow down, pay attention and learn to ride out difficult feelings. This empowers us to stay with our kids rather than need to deny and distract from their sorrow.
- Finally, if one or two Wednesdays turn into a Month of Wednesdays, check with your pediatrician or a therapist to be sure that your child is not actually depressed rather than sad, and what help might be useful in such a situation (i.e. therapy, self-esteem building activities, exercise, evaluation for learning differences or other issues that could be driving the depression). If your child is depressed, a great and generous step is for you, the parent, to go to therapy in the service of your child. Remember, if mama’s not happy, nobody’s happy.
So, let’s dedicate this Wednesday to deepening compassion and understanding for all of our sad children, in the service of a more balanced and real world where sadness is an accepted part of our good-bad, happy-sad world.