Last Monday, I was invited to teach a program to second-graders about “Emotions” and how to become happier. I have led this lesson countless times. So I began by introducing myself and connecting with the kids about what they do to feel happier such as skateboarding, singing and playing soccer. I was really impressed with how happy they all seemed. Then, Elijah responded that he felt happier when “he thought of leaving this planet and killing himself.” It was the moment where time stood still. What do you do as a parent, teacher or counselor when you hear this?
Helping a Sad Child
Often, I am reminded of that old Smokey Bear commercial where he taught everyone to “Stop, Drop and Roll” if fire caught on your clothes. I think it’s the same feeling when you hear a child struggle with true depression, misery and hopelessness — you stop, listen, drop to their level and offer them a hand out of the grey wall that is surrounding them.
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In the above situation, I thanked Elijah for being courageous enough to share his feelings with the group and tell us how upset he has been. I told him (and the class) that if you ever feel so depressed and begin thinking thoughts of harming one’s self or others it is time to ask for help from someone you trust. (Also, I gave everyone my business card which they loved because it says my company: Growing Happy Kids).
Elijah is now getting the professional assistance that he needs to learn how to healthfully handle his feelings (especially sadness, true depression, suicidal thoughts) and see how he can make smart choices. But I was interested in Elijah and wanted to know more about him so I sat with him separately, learned about his parent’s getting divorced and his father struggling with an addiction and then I realized — Elijah is a highly sensitive child (see my previous post “The Highly Sensitive Child”) who needs additional assistance in navigating his emotional landscape.
Moving toward Happiness
Children want to be happy and avoid pain. This is no new news. But highly sensitive children experience their emotional worlds more intensely like Elijah. His sadness turned into misery and hopelessness much sooner than other kids. So first on the docket is to teach him (and more kids) how to identify his feelings, learn that he can direct them and then let-go of the ones that are dragging him down.
Because the aim is to help him successfully handle all of his emotions, learn “smart” ways to feel better and begin strengthening himself. Highly sensitive children (unfortunately) are also more susceptible to experiencing bouts of depression, low mood and emotional upsets if they don’t have good role models (his weren’t) or learn ways to feel better when life overwhelms them as it often does.
Think of it this way: Highly sensitive children are like the delicate orchids versus the sturdy marigolds in the field of children’s happiness. They can thrive and flourish but need far more assistance in creating the conditions that help them. I consider this one of the primary reasons why I wrote my upcoming book, Growing Happy Kids, so that all children — especially the highly sensitive ones can actually have a shot at inner strength and ultimately, happiness.
Any parent, teacher or clinician that hears a child flippantly say that he or she might want to injure themselves – please take it to heart. I felt honored Elijah felt safe enough to share his emotional misery with me and give me an opportunity to help him find healthier (safer) ground where he can think better thoughts, honor his sensitivity and develop a place within him that is strong no matter what.
Maureen Healy is a child development and parenting expert with more than 20 years of experience. She specializes in children’s emotional health especially helping highly sensitive kids succeed. Her new book, Growing Happy Kids: How to Foster Inner Confidence, Success and Happiness, becomes available in April of 2012 wherever books are sold. More info: www.growinghappykids.com or @mdhealy