We all have moods. In childhood, there are those unicorn, rainbow, cotton candy and smiley ones. Then there are those beastly ones, such as meltdown mahem at Macy’s, bedtime blow-ups, and tantrums over tuna. Adolescents are also famous for occasionally getting their knickers in a twist…
Behind every spirited child in distress is a parent secretly wishing to be sedated. Okay, the last statement may just be me, but sometimes the moods of our children shift so swiftly and fiercely from cheer to rage that we’re left dazed and confused.
Let’s explore some common “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 for them, 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 a more sizeable helping, your child’s perception that she did can trigger a nasty mood.
How to Bust a Mood
Look to children’s literature
Sharing a book is one way to connect with kids in a discussion about 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 him that everyone has bad days.
- Another book that combines a silly sense of humor with grouchy feelings is Big Rabbit’s Bad Mood by Ramona Badescu. The story shows that laughter is good medicine for monstrous bad moods.
Listen to the experts and their advice
Rick and Jan Hanson, authors of Mother Nurture, 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 internally when life isn’t going smoothly.
- Dr. Hanson suggests spending a few minutes at bedtime reviewing with your child all the things that make him feel good, and reminding him 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 your child he doesn’t need to worry, and teach him strategies to calm himself.
- 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 he is 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 in the home, so be sure to take good care of your own emotional well-being and your relationships.
Do not underestimate the power of rest
Bad moods hate a restful slumber. Are you getting enough rest to cope with a moody child? Do everything in your power to promote better sleep habits for you and your family – you need your energy and stamina for those terrible, no good days, and so does your child – sleep deprivation can adversely affect everyone’s mood.
Ask your pediatrician or check out the National Sleep Foundation’s website to learn how many hours of sleep are recommended for your child’s various stages of development. For example, toddlers ages 1 to 3 need 12 to 14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, and preschoolers ages 3 to 5 need 11 to 13 hours. School-aged youth ages 5 to 10 need 10 to 11 hours, and during puberty and adolescence, getting about 9 hours of nightly sleep is recommended as essential.
Sleep tips for families:
- Emphasize need for a consistent sleep schedule and bedtime routine.
- Make child’s bedroom conducive to sleep – dark, cool and quiet.
- Keep TV and computers out of the bedroom.
- Avoid caffeine at night: coffee, black tea, sodas and chocolate.