Sadness doesn’t always look like ‘crying’ and it's good to know some of the signs and be able to support tamariki when they feel sad. Here's some tips on how.
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A bit of background

Sadness can stem from everyday incidents, like loneliness or a disagreement with friends, or from life’s ‘larger’ challenges, such as separation, change and loss. Teachers will often know if a student is facing a tough time. But sadness doesn’t always look like ‘crying’. Angry outbursts, isolation and tiredness can also be signs of sadness.

Unfortunately, we often try to hide or repress our sadness and for older tamariki, crying comes at quiet moments and sometimes as a surprise. Unexpected reactions like this should always be viewed as positive. Sadness is much more painful and long-lasting if it's not able to be expressed.

Inspire (and try)

Let them know it's okay to be sad
If one of your students is having a tough time, let them know that you understand this will be a sad time, and are there to talk if they'd like to. Naming ‘sadness’ is important because it reassures the child that their feeling is normal, given the circumstances.

Check in if you're unsure
If you’re unaware of any challenges but a student's behaviour indicates something’s not quite right, take the time to check in with them. If they display sadness, comfort them and allow them some quiet time until they’re ready to rejoin the class or you’re able to spend some time one-on-one.

Let their friends stay close
Sometimes peers are a great comfort too, tamariki may want their friends around them more often or while talking with you, and other tamariki often like to provide support. Empathy and compassion are great human traits and can be encouraged and modelled by you!

Reach out to whānau
If you feel it’s appropriate, it would be really kind to engage with your student’s whānau. Just keep it low-key, say you’re thinking of them and are happy to support their child. See if there is anything the school or you can do. Sometimes schools will ask the PTA for help providing meals, babysitting or other appropriate support.

Just be there
There’s no timeline for sad feelings to come and go, and it's natural to want to cheer your sad student up. Know that you don’t have to, and sometimes this just won't be possible. The best thing you can do, is offer empathy, warmth, patience and consistency. Let them know that they will feel better in time. You may also like to discuss with the student how they’d like you to respond if questions come up. Use your best judgment here!

Know that 'regular' supports can really help
Big emotions like sadness, worry and anger can, in turn, worry us. When we’re tempted to call in the professionals and experts it sometimes helps to ask: ‘What if this was my niece or nephew?’ Often, whānau can provide all of the care and support that's needed with help from their community (school, church, friends and family).

Plan (and reflect)

Kōrerō with other staff members who may also have a relationship with your student or their whānau. They may have other great ideas on how to offer support.

In terms of information to send out, our How to Help your Kids Feel Good and Have Fun guide might be a general (and gentle) option. If it’s well-known that one of your tamariki and their whānau are having a tough time, you could provide other families with: How to help your kids be kind and grateful with a little explanation will help it make sense, and be followed up on at home.

Sparklers activities that can help

Review (and follow up)

Keep checking in with your student and their whānau – let them know all the positive things you’re noticing about your student, no matter how small.

You may also like to journal things that helped in this situation. This could make a great future 'go-to' for you, or perhaps help create more empathetic school policies. And keep checking in on you. Things that impact our students, often impact us too. Head to our Looking After You Too for tips.

You might use books and art to help tamariki process and express their feelings - they won't always have the words, nor do they need to really. The book Art Musketeers demonstrates this and may start some new ways in your classroom to explore positive responses and processes.

We love the Positive Behaviour for Learning (PB4L) approach and recommend making their Encourage Positive Behaviours model your go-to as a matter of fantastic practice! Encouraging positive behaviours via a classroom and whole school approach… how cool is that!

Looking after you

Check out our top tips for surviving, thriving and bringing your A-game!

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