Sadness is inevitable and necessary. It goes with many important events in our lives and is another way for us to know how important a loss of someone or something has been to us.

All children experience sadness. When they do, the body shuts down. Other demands and emotions are either shut out or given secondary importance to allow the child time to slow down, withdraw and reorganize.

The guilt and self-absorption that often accompany sadness need to be sorted through and put aside. During periods of sadness, children are learning to cope with disappointments or grief, and they are mustering defenses and techniques for handling vulnerability in the future.

Sadness follows losses, criticisms and perceived inadequacies. A broken toy leads to tears and the inescapable thought: “I did it! Why am I so dumb? Let me hide it quickly or Mommy will see and make me feel even dumber.”

The loss of an important person is like losing a part of one’s self, and may come with self-reproach and guilt. “What did I do wrong?”

Sadness in a parent can feel like a loss, too — unless the parent can openly acknowledge it.

A parent’s criticisms or teasing about a child’s sadness can be devastating. Young children already feel smaller and less competent than the adults who care for them.

Children of different temperaments usually show their sadness in different ways. The most common expressions are irritability, tantrums, angry outbursts and aggressive behavior. These are aimed at the outer world.

Children also turn their sadness inward — they may not eat, or their sleeping and other normal behavior may be disrupted. They may seem pale, despondent — “not the same child.”

Parents naturally want to protect their children from sadness, but they cannot. It is painful to see a child sad. Although childhood is supposed to be fun, joyous and rewarding, every child can tell you this isn’t always the case. Adults remember the sad moments of their own childhood at least as readily as the happy occasions.

Here are some ways to help a sad child:

Examine your natural tendency as a parent to suffer when your child is in pain. Do you see her pain as your own failure? Do you feel that you must protect her from these feelings? She needs to know that you can stand to hear how badly she’s been feeling. Your desire to protect her from sadness can prevent this open exchange.

Help the child say out loud what she’s feeling: “Sometimes it helps to tell someone how you’re feeling.” She will feel relieved, which will reinforce future communication.

Listen. Don’t try to read her mind. You may want her to know that you know just how she feels. But no one ever really can. Listening and wanting to understand are enough.

Share and verbalize a child’s sadness without “trying to fix it.” You rarely can, and you risk giving her the sense that you can’t face her sense of hopelessness. Things don’t have to stay hopeless, but a child may not begin to revive until she knows that you see how serious her feelings are.

Share your own sadness and let her know you can still handle it. Adversity can be an opportunity to model ways of coping for your child.

Sadness is an emotion — not the same as depression, which is an illness.

Although feelings of sadness come and go like passing clouds, depression settles in like a thick fog. Depression makes it hard to see what is really going on. Everything seems joyless and without purpose. The child sees herself as “no good,” grown-ups as “no help,” and the world as “no fun.”

This distortion of a child’s perceptions may interfere with concentration, friendships, even eating and sleeping.

Depression is of long duration rather than passing and short-lived. It is all-pervasive, invading many areas of a child’s life at once.

A child who is depressed deserves prompt evaluation and treatment by a child psychiatrist or psychologist.

Questions or comments should be addressed to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton and Dr. Joshua Sparrow, care of The New York Times Syndicate, 620 Eighth Ave., 5th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10018, or email to:

[email protected]