Moody Kids

Moody Kids_Blog

In what I hope has been the long awaited return of my posts, I want to share some of my thoughts on moods. Moods are so subjective and nuanced, and without proper verbiage can be nearly impossible to convey. We even create new words to cover the complexity that exists in the realm of moods. Hangry is a personal favorite. I’m not just hungry, or just angry. I probably also have some annoyance about the delay of satiation. Hangry encompasses that overlap in such a perfect conjoint way. At this point I will admit that I have not yet seen the new Pixar film (bad therapist!), but I have been told it does a great job of navigating this in a fun and understandable way…more on that when I see the film!

What compelled me to write about moods today is a continual observation of parents. Most adults have a pretty good grasp on identifying their emotions. They can distinguish between happy, sad, tired, angry, overly stimulated. They let others know, “I’m having a bad day. I need a break.” They are competent communicators in this way. So where are they falling down on the job? Their expectation of their children to not have varying moods.

Thinking back to my childhood, I can remember feeling like I just needed time to myself and a day to do nothing. But being a small person and (like most kids are) at the whim of my parents, it was not always likely that the day’s activities aligned with my current mood. I was much more introverted then, and I needed time and space to refuel. When I did not get that time (due to school, extracurricular activities, social obligations, siblings who also had all of the above), it would often lead to a full on meltdown. I know for myself there was no external cue that signified buildup to this break, it would just happen one day. This led to my being labeled as “moody” and “emotional.” Now to be fair both of those are true, but that’s because I HAVE moods and I HAVE emotions!! Are we not all moody and emotional? Yes, but as adults we are more likely to caretake to these emotions (Hence, walking into work and proclaiming, “I’m having a bad day, I need a break.”)

So how can parents alleviate the stress of seeing their child go into full meltdown mode?

  1. Label their emotions for them: “You seem tired today.” “Do you feel upset with mom?” “You must be angry at your brother.” Kids learn language from us, and unless we give them a label, they may not even understand the feeling that is happening within them. Having a word for it reduces their internal anxiety.
  2. Create an opportunity for space: Not all children are social. That may be difficult for social parents to work around, but expecting your child to be the same as you is going to be difficult in more ways than this, so do yourself a favor and plan for breaks on your calendar.
  3. Learn who your child is as a separate person: It is easy to make the “mini me” assumption, but believe it or not, that little human is a completely unique being in his own right. Ask questions and discover that awesome personality, don’t make assumptions based on a few shared traits.
  4. Embrace the moods: We all have them. We are subject to external factors all the time, and none of us are going to live in a bubble. Anticipate that there will be reactions, and worry less that your child’s meltdown is a reflection of parenting. It isn’t.

Photo obtained from flickr.com Creative Commons

Dear Jacqueline,

Dear Jacqueline,

As the holiday is fast approaching I have a question concerning my 12 year old son.  Long and short of it is he has been estranged from his father now for 1 1/2 years and the holidays are a hard time for him.  He doesn’t hear from him for months (mind you he lives 2 miles away) except on holidays he gets a text message saying ” Happy Holiday Love and miss you”.  My son will always respond the same but knows he then will not hear from him until the next holiday, which makes him sad and angry.  I have thought about taking his phone on the holiday, blocking his dad’s number, etc.  Any advice would be appreciated. 

Thanks,

Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

            It sounds like this is not only hard on your son, but you as well. I imagine that as a mother you are left feeling pretty helpless in this situation, and wanting to protect your son from feeling hurt. I am also imagining that for your son the text message feels like a beacon of hope, which leaves him feeling even more disappointed when he realizes his dad is returning to old patterns.

            At his age (at any age in childhood actually), he is likely placing blame on himself for his relationship with his father. The best thing you can do is validate his feelings (“I know it hurts when he lets you down.” “I’m sorry he is not being the father you need.”) and assure him that while it might not feel like it, that it is not his fault, and the outcome of the relationship with his dad is not a reflection of him not being a good enough son. This is a big weight that he is likely carrying, and knowing that you understand him and are there for him will be a great support. If he is not already, I would also suggest counseling so he has an extra outlet for these emotions. And the fact that you are willing to reach out sets a good example for him that it is ok.

            Good luck with the holidays, and I hope everything goes well.

~Jacqueline