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 change and loss. This information, relates more to the latter, but the suggestions on how to offer support and be there for tamariki can be applied to day-to-day bouts of sadness too!

Many times teachers will know if a student is facing a tough time, and it’s worth letting them know you care about and are there for them, if they want to talk.

But sadness doesn’t always look like ‘crying’. Angry outbursts, isolation from peers or activities 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 such as 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)

In the moment

Events that can impact your tamariki, which you’ll probably be aware of, include:

  • parents separating
  • illness or death in their family/whānau
  • moving from or to your school
  • their friends moving away.

If one of your students is having a tough time, let them know in a quiet moment that you’re aware of this and you understand this will be a sad time for them. Naming ‘sadness’ is important to do because it reassures the child that their feeling is normal in the circumstances. Let them know you’re happy to find time to talk if they want to.

If however you’re unaware of any challenges your student may be facing but their behaviour indicates that 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 join the class again or you’re able to spend some one-on-one time with them.

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 generally they come naturally and/or can be encouraged and modelled by you!

When there's time

Teacher’s roles are far greater than teaching academics, but then you knew that already! If you feel it’s appropriate, it would be really kind to engage with your student’s whānau. Just keep it low-key, say that 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 involvement in providing meals, babysitting and other appropriate support.

You (and other tamariki) will probably feel you want to cheer your sad student up. Know that you don’t have to, and sometimes this will be impossible, depending on the depth of their sadness. Feelings are made to be felt, but they will become easier over time.

The best thing you can do for your tamariki, is offer support, warmth, patience, empathy and consistency of routine. As a teacher and trusted adult, you can help tamariki learn skills that help them notice, understand, express, cope with, and learn from big emotions like sadness.

If you haven’t already, let them know it’s okay to be sad and it’s normal under the circumstances. There’s no timeline for sad feelings to come and go Reiterate that they will feel better in time. Mostly, it’s about listening and continuing to let them know you’re there for them, but that there’s no pressure to share anything they don’t want to.

You may also like to discuss with the student how they’d like you to respond if questions come up in the classroom environment. Use your best judgment here too!

Big emotions like sadness, worry and anger can in turn worry us, especially when we feel like we don’t know what to do. When we’re tempted to call in the professionals and experts it sometimes helps to ask: ‘What if this was my niece or nephew in this situation?’ Often, whānau provide all of the care and support needed with help from their community (school, church, friendship group and connections). Professionals, experts and ‘interventions’ don’t always need to play a role.

Sparklers activities that can help

Encouraging emotional literacy

Teaching and practising calm down strategies

Building on tamariki strengths

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, perhaps try to keep it really general (and gentle). Our ‘How to Help your Kids Feel Good and Have Fun guide is one option, or perhaps if it’s well-known in the community and classroom that one of your tamariki and their whānau are having a tough time, you could send out to the rest of the families – How to help your kids be kind and grateful. In this instance, a bit of explanation will help it make sense and be followed up at home.

Keep a journal of things that have helped in this situation. If you’re new to teaching, this won’t be the last time you need to support tamariki with genuine sadness and grief. This might make a great 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.

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.

We love the Positive Behaviour for Learning (PB4L) approach and encourage working in this creative and strengths-based way. We’ve adapted their ‘Encourage Positive Behaviours’ model for Sparklers. and recommend familiarising yourself with this and as your go-to for further analysis and 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!

Learn more