We all have moods. In childhood, there are those unicorn, rainbow, cotton candy, smiley ones. And then there are the beastly ones. Meltdown mahem at a department store. Bedtime blow-ups. Tantrums over tuna. Adolescents are also famous for occasionally getting their panties in a bunch... ahem. Behind every spirited child in distress is a parent secretly wishing to be sedated.
Okay, the last part may just be me, but sometimes the moods of our children shift so swiftly and fiercely from cheer to rage, we’re left dazed and confused. Kids don’t grow out of bad moods like they do shoes.
So let’s explore some common ‘very bad mood’ triggers and tips for how to avoid them.
Why terrible, horrible moods happen to good children
Changes in routine. All parents get this intellectually, yet still we are caught off guard when our kids react to change with distress. “But you said we’d get ice cream right after school!” (Can you feel the power of those words like nails on a chalkboard?) We think they must learn to go with the flow. They want predictable outcomes.
Overstimulation. Too much of a good thing can be lovely… and it can be bad. Real bad. Noise, interference and stimulation in a child’s surroundings can cause increased irritability. And, unfortunately, children often don’t realize it’s the environment making them edgy and grumpy.
Exhaustion. Hello? Sleep deprivation makes children of all ages emotionally weird and less resilient. Teens especially must get enough shut-eye!
Tummies growlin’. The tricky part about cranky, hungry kids? They can be extremely resistant to acknowledging their hunger. 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. Let’s keep reminding each other about this one, deal?
Injustice. “Hey! Sophie got a bigger slice!” Even if Sophie didn’t get the sizeable helping, perceiving she did can trigger a nasty mood.
Bust a mood
1. Look to children’s literature. Sharing a book is one way to connect with kids in a discussion of moods. Remember little Alexander from Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst? Poor guy 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! But there is someone there to bust his mood. Fortunately, he has a parent who reassures that everyone has bad days.
Another title combining a silly sense of humor with grouchy feelings is Big Rabbit’s Bad Mood by Ramona Badescu. Laughter is good medicine for monstrous bad moods.
2. Listen to the experts and their advice. Authors of Mother Nurture (2002), Rick Hanson, Ph.D., and Jan Hanson, L.Ac., and Ricki Pollycove, M.D., have excellent tips for easing sour moods.
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. Dr. Hanson suggests spending a few minutes at bedtime reviewing all the things that make them feel good and reminding them to savor those things.
Watch out for stress. Some moody kids have a hard time coping with stressors, such as long days of childcare, overscheduling and too-high expectations. While we can’t eliminate stress for kids, be a good model of coping. Reassure them they don’t need to worry and teach strategies to calm themselves.
Seek out objectivity. Frequently, it 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 are missing something?
Assess their diet. Think about whether your child is eating enough protein or too much sugar. Make sure they are offered nutritious meals, consider vitamins and watch for symptoms of food allergies.
Take care of yourself. Don’t forget about your own needs for nurturance. Moody kids can add up to lots of stress into the home, so take good care of your relationships and your own emotional well-being.
3. Do not underestimate the power of rest. Bad moods hate a restful slumber. Are you getting enough rest to cope with these moody children? You need your energy and stamina for these terrible, no-good days! See a connection between sleepovers and your child’s bad mood? Do everything in your power to promote better sleep habits for you and your family.
Michele Ranard, M.Ed., has a husband, two children and a master’s in counselling.
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