Inoculating Yourself Against Your Kids’ Bad Moods

I am a huge fan of Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and the Happiness Project blog (the only blog I regularly read besides The Calm Mom!).  I encourage all of you to check out Gretchen’s fantastic words of wisdom!

This week, Gretchen wrote about how kids affect their parents’ mood.  She described a day when her 5 year old woke up on the wrong side of the bed and, in her words, “by the end of the day, all four of us were in very crabby moods.”  She goes on to post this question:

“How do I maintain my emotional self-sufficiency while also staying very engaged with the people around me? (Or, put another way, am I so shallow that a five-year-old’s whining can ruin my day?)”

Ah, Gretchen, I can relate!  I, too, live with a five year old and yes, her moods can color my day from our very first interaction in the morning.  So, the question got me thinking….and made me come up with some good tips for all of us to try:

-Think about biology: When kids wake up in a foul mood, sometimes it boils down to basic biology.  Did they get enough sleep?  Are they starving?  Have we started chatting to them before they have had a chance to even go pee (I am guilty of this one!)?  Could they be feeling under the weather?  I have found that on moody mornings, my daughter often has an extra bowl of cheerios and is like a changed person!  Be mindful of these factors, and adjust accordingly.  Everyone else might be putting their 5-year old to bed at 10 PM, but if your kid is a 7-o’clocker, stick to it religiously!

-Don’t get too involved: Some moms and dads spend a lot of time with their kids trying to figure out where the bad mood came from (otherwise known as talking about feelings).  Yes, I am psychologist, but I don’t think this is always a good idea.  For very young kids, they generally are not going to know.  They just feel grumpy.  The more attention you give to the grumpiness, the longer they will stay grumpy and the more often they will get grumpy.  Because, as we all know, kids love attention.  Instead….

-Try humor: For little kids, it can be fun to give this problem a name, like Mr. Grumpy.  “Gee, it seems like Mr. Grumpy has come for a visit today.  He is SUCH A PAIN!”  Then, ask your child, “What can we do to send him packing?”  Kids often have very good ideas about how to feel better.  On a weekend morning, for example, a child might choose to stay in bed a bit longer and look at some books.  This is not punishment…it is an opportunity to get into a better mood and enjoy the upcoming day.

-Change the Channel in the Brain: Little kids love this one.   Parents can say, “Ugh, it seems like your brain is stuck on the grumpy channel today.  Can we change the channel in your brain to a channel that is more fun?”  The general idea is to get busy with something else that propels kids out of their bad mood.  Good activities are: helping with household tasks, doing art, looking at books, playing with toys, watching a show, going outside to run around, etc. 

-Don’t let the bad mood determine the family’s behavior: When our kids wake up in bad moods, the inclination is to call off the plans!  “We were supposed to go to the zoo today, but I don’t want to go with a little grump-pot.”  Admit it, we’ve all said it!  Keeping with that same spirit of not paying too much attention to Mr. Grumpy, go on with your day.  When the whole family gets busy with a fun activity, your child will be more likely to be jarred out of a bad mood. 

-If all else fails, change the channel in your own brain:  We have all had those days when NOTHING works….I know, I’ve been there.  As a parent, it is then our job to change the channel in our own brains.  We can choose to stay focused on the little drama queen or king residing in our house, or get busy with something else.  Remember that doing nothing for the grumpy child is OKAY…sometimes there is nothing to do.  Modeling calmness yourself, by grabbing a book to read or going to do some baking or heading out for a run, shows a good example to your kids.

Let me know what you do when your kids are in a grumpy mood!  Post your comments here!

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