Tips for Banishing Bad Moods in Children
"When I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running."
— Hero from Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
Tantrums over tuna. Meltdowns in Macy's. Bedtime blow-ups. Seismic storms after soccer. Behind every spirited child in distress is a parent tempted to reach for pain reliever or a Pinot Grigio.
The last remedy might just be for me, but the moods of our children can shift from cheer to rage so swift and fiercely that we're left dazed and confused. And unfortunately, kids don't grow out of bad moods like they do their pajamas.
Remember Alexander's totally sucky day? All of us have moments we want to run away to Australia! But who knew? Apparently Australian parents and kids get moody too. Here are some common 'very bad mood' triggers and tips to avoid them.
Why terrible, horrible moods hit good children
Changes in routine. All parents understand it, but we still act surprised when our kids react to change with distress. "But you said we'd get ice cream right after school!" We think they need to go with the flow. They want predictability.
Overstimulation. Too much of a good thing can be bad. Noise, interference and stimulation in their surroundings make some kids irritable. Children often don't realize it's their environment making them edgy.
Exhaustion. Sleep deprivation makes children of all ages emotionally weird and less resilient. Teens, especially, don't get enough shut-eye.
Tummy's a-growlin'. The tricky part about cranky, hungry kids? They may not recognize they're hungry. You have to do the thinking and be armed with snacks especially when away from home.
Growing pains. Yep. Blame it on hormones. Physical and neurological growth can cause children to be moody.
Injustice. "Hey! Sophie got a bigger slice!" Even if Sophie didn't get a more sizeable helping, perceiving she did can trigger a nasty mood.
Turning moody frowns upside down
Poor Alexander can't even get away from his bad day when he settles down for the night. He bites his tongue and the cat deserts him! Fortunately he has a parent who reassures him everyone has bad days.
A few principles suggested by Rick and Jan Hanson, authors of Mother Nurture, may ease those sour moods.
Provide one-on-one attention. Make sure your moody child is getting plenty of nurturance in the form of quality attention for at least 20 minutes daily (ideally, more time than that).
Soak up the sunshine. Children need to build up a positive emotional memory so they can access those happy places when life isn't going smoothly. The Hansons suggest spending a few minutes at bedtime reviewing all the things that make a child feel good and reminding her to savor those things.
Watch out for stress. Some moody kids have a hard time coping with stressors such as long days of child care, over-scheduling and too-high expectations. While you can't eliminate stress for your kids, be a good model of coping. Reassure them they don't need to worry and teach strategies to calm themselves.
Seek out objectivity. It frequently helps to ask a teacher, family friend or counselor for an opinion about your child's moods. Is there a bully at school? Is it possible you're missing something?
Assess their diet. Think about whether your child is eating enough protein or consuming too much sugar. Make sure she is offered nutritious meals, consider vitamins, and watch for symptoms of food allergies.
Take care of yourself. Don't forget that you need nurturance too. Moody kids bring lots of stress into the home, so take good care of your marriage and your own emotional well-being.
In addition to the above, make sure you and your children get enough sleep to keep up your energy and stamina for those terrible, horrible, no good days.
Michele Ranard understands Alexander. She has a master's in education, and is a professional counselor/tutor and freelancer.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst; ALA, 1972.
Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hanson, Jan Hanson and Ricki Pollycover; Penguin, 2002.