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18 Signs of Fear, Anger and Sadness in Children

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My 8-year-old son has always loved playing baseball. But when it came time to sign up again for the latest season, he told us he was through with it. He would even get angry when we asked why he wanted to quit. Finally, at bedtime one night, he started crying. “I’ll try baseball one more time, Mom,” he said through his tears. He went on to explain that he was afraid he wouldn’t be very good this season and that’s why he was scared to play again. He was exhibiting sadness, a prominent expression of emotional development in children.

Once my husband and I figured out the cause of his fear, we were better able to walk him through it. Dr. Scott Turansky has some great tips for responding to the emotions of fear, anger, and sadness that are tied to even bigger issues than not making the baseball team.

Here are his 18 signs of fear, anger and sadness in children.

Signs Your Child May Be Experiencing Fear:

  1. They have trouble separating from parents.
  2. They don’t want to be alone.
  3. They don’t want parents to travel.
  4. They ask questions about safety and security.
  5. They ask questions about why something bad happened.
  6. They ask if the bad thing can happen again.
  7. They joke or use sarcasm with fear as an underlying theme.
  8. They experience nightmares or are afraid at night.

How to Help Your Child Deal with Fear:

Be careful about lying to your children by saying, “It’s all okay.” Your children might be able to sense that things aren’t okay (and even if they are okay, to your child they’re not, and his feelings need to be addressed). In fact, this kind of statement can be counterproductive and cause children to feel like they can’t trust you, further increasing feelings of insecurity.

The solution for fear is to learn to trust. Trust is the ability to release control to another. {Tweet This} Children can learn to trust when they take small steps of risk and have positive experiences over a period of time. Gently encourage children to take small risks of separation and then provide the comfort they need. During that process, children need a lot of parental love, patience, encouragement, and support.

Signs Your Child May Be Experiencing Anger:

  1. They talk about or act out revenge.
  2. Their play becomes more aggressive and mean.
  3. They have more frequent or intense angry outbursts.
  4. They use violent words or actions especially pointed toward those they blame.
  5. They demonstrate an unusually bad attitude.
  6. They are easily angered and have a short fuse.

How to Help Your Child Deal with Anger:

Being angry isn’t wrong. In fact, anger identifies a problem. Seeking revenge is wrong and turns the angry person into an ugly person.

Dr. Turansky says, “Anger is like the mercury in a thermometer. When left unchecked the intensity of the emotion increases from frustration to anger and then to other things like rage and bitterness. As the intensity builds, people shut themselves off from others and relationships close down. Having a plan to deal with anger can limit the intensity and prevent much of the destruction anger tends to cause. He has a wonderful plan here for helping your child deal with anger.

Signs Your Child May Be Experiencing Sadness:

  1. They cry or are lethargic and appear sad.
  2. They appear depressed or withdrawn.
  3. They have an inability to experience joy or happiness.
  4. They have a loss of appetite or seem unmotivated to do anything.

How to Help Your Child Deal with Sadness:

Before we share Dr. Turansky’s comments about dealing with sadness, the first step is comforting your child as much as they will allow you too. Just like with the emotion of fear, don’t try to talk your child out of feeling sad. Instead, say something like, “I can tell that you are very sad about __________.” Then, hug your child and comfort your child. Let your child talk about how she feels and just listen.

Now, back to Dr. Turansky…

A child who responds to tragedy by becoming sad is likely to be a sensitive and compassionate child. These are good character qualities and should be encouraged, but when children become overly introspective, they may lose their ability to help others.

Look for ways to help others. Serving, comforting, and giving help children to become part of the solution instead of wallowing in the problem. Be creative by giving money, time, and energy to worthy causes.

Sadness often causes a person to become self-focused resulting in self-pity. Contributing to solutions helps children get outside themselves and can be very therapeutic.

Let’s Talk: How do you handle your children’s strong emotions?

Dr. Scott Turansky is an author and speaker known for his heartfelt parenting approach. He offers moms practical, real-life advice for many of parenting’s greatest challenges and is the founder of the National Center for Biblical Parenting.


What scares you the most? How often do you think about it?

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