How to Help Unhappy Kids

Unhappy kids - what can we do as parents to help our kids when they are unhappy

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Early this year, my 4 year old got unhappy about having to go to nursery.

She was super clingy each morning and I found myself at a loss at what to “do” to help.

She had good friends there and it was a lovely, warm environment which she knew well, so what was making her so unhappy …

… had something happened?

… had she fallen out with a friend?

… was it something I’d done?

… or did I just not understand her personality?

I probed F every evening, agonised no end and fretted about whether to make a “fuss”. Would I make things worse by getting “involved”? And what was making her sad anyway?

In the end, my mum … a long time play leader … solved the problem.

“Don’t worry, it’s just a 4  thing” she told me, “kids get clingy when they have a big burst of independence and most 4 to 5s make massive leaps forward in doing stuff for themselves”.

All they need is an extra dollop of “mummy love”, she advised, to give them the confidence to go out and explore the world on their own, without mum!

Mummy Love

The situation … and my mum’s wise words … got me thinking.

However hard I try, I can’t promise my daughter happiness.

I can’t create a world for her free from people who are mean or even downright evil. I can’t offer her a life that is always “fair”.

And I won’t even understand half her problems or always be able to “help” in any way that makes a difference and doesn’t make things worse.

She will at times be hurt, lonely and deeply miserable.

And often, the best thing … the only thing … I can do is let her feel my love.

The security of my love is her best protection against everything life will throw at her.

Can’t She Feel My Love?

But surely, my daughter feels my love already? How can she not when it’s so strong? A small voice says there are times when she doesn’t.

The times … in particular … when I am with her, but not truly there for her.

Not because she needs my undivided attention all the time. She doesn’t.

She just knows that sometimes … often? … I pretend to give her attention when really I am a million miles away thinking of a thousand other things.

And I pretend we are doing something for her and it’s really all about me.

And I say do this and do that without actually bothering to stop to talk about it. And it hurts. And it doesn’t feel like mummy love … at all.

So how can I help her feel … more strongly … my deep love?

Her Special World

Firstly, she needs to feel more deeply how much I enjoy being with her.

Of course, I don’t always! ‘Cos she can, like all kids, drive her mother to distraction. But she needs to see me play with her more joyfully and play what she loves best.

And that’s not with fancy toys or complicated crafts, it’s  just “let’s pretend” and “make believe” and never ending stories of wild and crazy adventures.

She needs me to join her in own special little world; not half heartedly, my boredom barely hidden but unreservedly and with delight, truly valuing her presence.

Listening to it All

After school, I bombard my daughter with questions about her day. I want to know it all. And she begrudgingly shares tiny snippets. Sound familiar?

What I don’t do, is just sit down and listen to whatever she has to say … ‘cos usually that’s some meandering story about everything under the sun and nothing much!

But when I do listen … truly listen … she has such joy in her face and that’s when she shares. Mostly yes, stories about baby bear and a huge herd of elephants who are coming to visit …

… but also what went well at school AND what didn’t …

… what she laughed at AND what worried her …

… and then there’s the possibility that I can help.

Loving Myself

My everyday is a marathon, sprint against the clock whilst juggling plates … 100s of them! And whilst juggling those plates … getting out of the house, meals, laundry, work, getting home, housework, more meals, more laundry, bed … I bark commands.

Do this! Stop that! Tidy up! Hurry up! I don’t even stop what I am doing to issue them. They are shouted through walls, on the run, without eye contact.

I make a great parade ground sergeant major but not a loving mum.

And who is going to share their problems with a shouty, ranty, sergeant major of a mum?

I shout and rant because I feel rubbish about me and the plates I keep dropping …  but to truly feel my love for her, my daughter needs me to be gentler on myself …

… she needs me to love me. They are just plates after all … mostly …

Protection For Ever

And yes, none of this will guarantee my daughter’s happiness.

There will be all sorts of situations and challenges that make her sad.

And there will be so many times I screw up my efforts to help her “solve” them. I will miss battles that needed fighting. And I will jump in where I can’t win and where I make things worse.

But if I can give her that bedrock of love … of knowing what it feels like to be truly, deeply loved for oneself … I will have given her the best chance I can of finding happiness.

For as a very wise man said …

Love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves it’s own mark. To have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection for ever.

(Prof Dumbledore “Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone”)

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2 thoughts on “How to Help Unhappy Kids”

  1. Interesting post, thanks.

    It’s so easy to fret about this as something to be fixed, when, as you say, it seems best to help the kid sort it out for themself or just be sad.

    My little son once said to me that he was feeling sad but ‘I’ll be happy later’ and I was amazed at what I saw as real understanding of his emotions. I was well into my thirties before I realised that emotions change by their very nature and that they wouldn’t destroy me.

    Just letting people be, while offering them love and support, is still vital for adults. I’m not sure how much these things ever change. But I wouldn’t want parents to start beating themselves up either about not showing their love to their children. It’s a difficult line to follow: trying to get done what needs to be done, trying to teach your children what behaviour is not acceptable, and still bathe them in enough uncritical love as to give them the strength to be themselves.

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