When To Worry About Your Sad Child: Tips Ages 3-5

Blog Post created by teachontarioteam on Jul 23, 2015

sad_2_5_167x208.jpgHow do you know when your child has been too sad for too long? TVO and the child mental health experts at the Hincks-Dellcrest Centre have pulled together the following lists of sadness-related behaviours for kids aged 3-5 to help you decide when sadness has become a problem.


Behaviours are divided into three categories below; Typical (not to worry), Monitor (reason to continue monitoring behaviours), and Seek Help (behaviours may indicate a potential mental health problem).  These are only some of the highlights from the ABCs of Mental Health on the Hincks-Dellcrest site. Click here to see the full lists of behaviours and things you can do.




The following signs of sadness are normal and are not cause for concern. Click here for the full list of behaviours for your sad child.


  • Loss of interest in favourite toys, crying and the appearance of sadness when the child is tired or there have been changes in caregivers.
  • Showing signs of sadness when the child's natural desire to learn new things is met with rejection, e.g. they want to try something but are told ‘no.’
  • Irritability and crying when separated from mother or primary caregiver, for instance, during the first few days at a daycare.
  • Showing signs of sadness when the child is not feeling physically well.
  • Showing signs of sadness at the loss of a pet or similar upset.
  • Sadness as a result of any major change, such as moving house, changing schools or starting school.
  • Sadness when they are not getting enough of their parents attention.



The following signs of sadness in children aged 3-5 are not necessarily reason for concern, but are reason for continued monitoring to see if the child’s emotional state worsens. Click here for the full list of behaviours for your sad child.

  • The child shows signs of sadness for days without any improvement.
  • Soothing is not very helpful in changing the child’s sad mood.
  • The child stays irritable, whines or cries at small things most of the time.
  • The child becomes aggressive, such as hitting a sibling or hurting a pet intentionally.
  • Very few activities seem to engage the child; he seems generally passive and often speaks negatively about himself.
  • The child dismisses her achievements, has low energy and fatigue and complains of headaches and/or stomach aches.
  • The child has difficulty concentrating, can’t make basic decisions easily, is easily moved to tears and throws things when irritated.
  • The child is careless about her possessions and doesn’t get excited about new toys or doing new things.
  • The child moves frequently from one activity to another and tends not to talk to anyone.
  • The child sleeps too little or too much, eats too little or too much, and appears sluggish.


red_light_67x161_3.jpgSeek Help

The following signs of sadness in children aged 3-5 may be cause for serious concern, particularly if they interfere to a significant extent with the child’s functioning in school, social situations or normal family life and have been going on for more than two weeks. Click here for the full list of behaviours for your sad child.

  • Frequent sad, angry or anxious behaviour most of the time, most days.
  • Sadness and worry so severe that parents can’t reassure the child.
  • These behaviours are combined with a number of Yellow Light signs.
  • The child loses interest in activities and objects he used to enjoy. He gives away his things.
  • Almost nothing engages the child and she has trouble concentrating.
  • The child looks very unhappy and tends to cry or scream at the slightest provocation.
  • The child’s frequent temper tantrums last longer than 15 minutes at a time.
  • The child doesn’t laugh or show excitement when given the chance to engage in activities of his choice.
  • The child talks clearly about hurting herself.
  • The child is eating too much without enjoyment or eating very little.
  • The child is sleeping too much or too little.
  • The child is negative most of the time, complains of low energy and headaches and/or stomach aches.
  • The child is highly sensitive, highly self-critical, is easily moved to tears and rejects positive feedback.
  • The child hurts others, such as poking the cat in its eye or hitting other children.


Need Help? What to Do:


  • Something has gone seriously wrong if your child is hurting or threatening to hurt himself or someone else. In this case, you may want to take the child to the doctor and consider referral to a therapist.
  • Talk to your child’s school or her teacher to the possibility of referring the child to a counsellor within the school system.
  • Consider, with the child’s teacher, whether an adjustment to the school day is advisable.
  • Document your child’s behaviour, what happens, when and how often.
  • Accentuate the positives in your child.
  • Be careful not to ‘bubble wrap’ your child so she can learn to cope with real life situations.
  • Shape situations in which your child can feel successful, to help him get on the right emotional track.
  • Try to maintain normalcy in your home and the child’s life as much as possible.
  • Be creative in asking your child questions and engaging her in conversation.
  • Reduce stress at home.

Find more recommendations for your sad child in the ABC's of Mental Health section of the Hincks-Dellcrest website.