“You’re only as happy as your least happy child.” I laughed when I heard this line from sitcom TV mom. Why? Because it’s so true! My question is: Does it have to be? As parents, we love our kids and are sad when they are sad. When they are crying or hurting, we feel their pain. What about when they are just casting a dark mood on the whole family?
Here are some tips for ways to handle a grumpy child:
Meet their physical needs. I have found that with one of my sons, if he doesn’t have enough sleep then he is uncharacteristically grumpy. I have pointed it out to him and I will tell his future wife one day. The solution: I encourage him to take a nap. He wakes up happy and the whole family is better off. My other son is the same way when he’s hungry. The other day he came home from school so moody! I realized I had only packed rice cakes for snack, so it was clear what the problem was. I heated up some leftovers and just silently handed them to him. Within thirty minutes he was a whole new man.
Be present. Being a kid and especially a teenager is tough! Sometimes our kids are upset and can’t even pinpoint why. They just know they are down. It helps to be a calming presence. I find that just being close, rubbing their backs, folding clothes beside them, putting music on and cooking in the next room, just provides a calming presence. If I focus on keeping my emotions calm and even keel, then my gentleness can have a positive effect on them rather than the other way around. When he is distracted, your teen may open up and share what’s on his mind.
Give some space. Sometimes it helps to just say. “It sounds like you had a tough day today. Why don’t you take some alone time for a little bit. I’m here if you need me.” Light a candle and draw up a warm bath and see if your child just needs to soak in the tub for a little while. This validates her feelings and reassures her of your love and presence. We all get overwhelmed at times.
Listen and don’t over-react. This is a tough one for me. I always want to fix it. But sometimes what others need more than anything is just to talk through their feelings in a safe place. By not over-reacting or trying to fix all of their problems, you are communicating that you are a safe and trusting person to share with. As parents, we want to keep the communication lines open. We want to be ready and available to listen when our child is ready to talk. Realize that when she is willing to talk may not be a convenient time for you. Be prepared to drop what you’re doing if need be. You can’t get a conversation out of a teen who is not ready to talk. Timing is everything.
Set clear expectations. In life there are going to be times that all of us have to attend or participate in activities that we don’t want to do. I have found that if I tell my children in advance what is expected of them, how long the event will last, and schedule free time for them afterwards then they are more prepared to have a good attitude.
Take a day off. Sometimes your child may need a mental health day. Teens face a lot of pressures between school, social, and family expectations. At times they need to hear that they are a priority and that you will drop everything else to attend to their emotional needs. Maybe you need to take a day off just to relax from your busy lives just to bond for a day. Do something you can both enjoy together.
Get some help. If it seems like your teen or child is having more bad days than good days, then consult an expert. Here is a depression screen that is helpful for teens.
Check your attitude. As parents we have more emotional maturity than our kids. We have more experience taking thoughts captive and not allowing a negative thought to replay in our minds. We can pray silently in the moment. We can think of things that we are thankful for. We can choose joy and thankfulness. If we are constantly stressed and over-whelmed we can take something off our busy schedules. We can set the mood in our homes.
Let’s choose to have a joyful home!