My two kids are as different as two children can be. If you could catch a ray of sunshine and put it in inside a soul then build a body around it, you would have my youngest daughter. Sure she has moments of cloudiness and a few rainstorms, but they’re more like the gentle summer showers that help the garden grow. My eldest daughter is like a hurricane (although she describes herself as a tiger.) First comes the strong wind and rain that blows you sideways, then not long after you think the storm is over (au contraire, it’s just the eye of the storm) the floods arrive and send you scurrying to higher ground.
Now just imagine telling each of my children that it’s time to work on math or do their chores or read for a half hour when they don’t want to. The little ray of sunshine conveniently dissipates to nothingness, and the hurricane blows back at me.
Then picture me getting ready for a board meeting. 5 minutes left to leave the house and I still have to drop off the kids with my husband, tie the therapy dog up on the leash so he doesn’t kill another duck and somehow preserve my appearance so I don’t show up to the meeting with smoothie, snot, or significant stickiness on my jacket. (It’s the quadruple S and a death knell to female executives.) My youngest daughter figures it’s time to lay on her back and pretend she’s a spider who doesn’t know how to put on her (eight) shoes. My eldest daughter stands in the doorway between me and the truck. She stomps her foot, holds her hands clenched in fists straight by her side and says, “I’m not done with my smoothie.”
There are two ways to handle either situation. The first is I can muscle through and bully my kids into doing what I want. That sounds bad, but at times it’s needed. That approach goes along with phrases like, “You’ll do it because I said so,” or “If you don’t get in the truck, then…” fill in the blank. You’ll never drink another smoothie as long as I live. Or “You’ll do math for every day for the rest of your life.”
The second approach is to be smarter than my kids which I admit is a struggle at times. Being smarter often means changing the mood and capitalizing on how each daughter thinks. I can whisper to the oldest, “I bet I can be in my seat and buckled up faster than you can.” Zoom, she’s off. To my youngest I say, “How fast do you think a reindeer can run to the truck.” She passes her sister in the driveway and makes it to the truck first.
Here are the 7 ways I’ve found to change the mood:
My kids work better in school if there is music playing in the background. This happens to drive me crazy. I do my most intense and best work in silence, so it took me awhile to find this trick. I’ve also learned (the hard way) that the best music is classical for our school setting, because for the most part (except for Beethoven’s Wig) the kids can’t sing along and they aren’t as inclined to break out into a raucous dance party. They still make up stories to go along with the music. “Listen, Mom, this is where Rudolph is running in a field of flowers.” But with music playing, I say, “Do your math,” and they do.
In the truck we sing loud music that has hand motions with it.
When I want the kids to work happily around the house, I play happy music.
I feed them. Does it seem obvious? Often when the kids are grumpy, I realize supper is 15 minutes late or they burned more calories swimming than they took in for lunch, or the pancakes at breakfast just didn’t last until the next meal. I’ve learned to not ask the kids if they’re hungry. I simply cut up an orange or an apple and place it on their school desks or on a convenient table.
Although I don’t believe my kids act better or worse when they’re given refined sugars or dyes, I avoid them in general because it just isn’t a great idea to give it to them. Why would I want to send my kids on a blood sugar roller coaster or put a chemical into their bodies that I can’t pronounce? Protein is important in controlling diet related moods long term as well as complex carbohydrates. While I don’t think a sugar “high” makes my kids hyper, when their sugar level starts to dip, they are cranky!
Location, location, location. I’m not selling a house; I’m selling the idea that we can be happy. If we’re doing school in the back room and the kids are crabby we shift to the kitchen counter. If we’re in the barn, we move to the garden. If we’re inside we can go outside. If we’re home, we can go to the park.
I set expectations. Kids get grumpy when they don’t understand, and if I’m in a rush I don’t have time to explain things. At the beginning of the day, we sit down for breakfast and I tell them the schedule. It may go something like this:
“Okay girls, we’re going to hit the books hard after breakfast. CB, while McK is writing, we’ll do piano together. McK, when CB has started her reading, then it’s your turn. At 11:00 (McK, what time is it now?) we’re walking out the door to meet Mary at the park. That means I’ll give you a 10 minute warning for potty, shoes and face wiping. Anyone have questions?
For school, I’ve made colorful flowcharts that the kids can follow. It seems that having the plan written down is more “official” somehow than if I just say it.
I try to know my kids. Just like they have have different stress triggers, they also relax in different ways. If my eldest is breaking down and we’re able to do it, I ask her to go to the piano. If my youngest is sad I ask her to take the out rabbit and play with him. Going to their personal source of happiness often resets their moods.
6. WALK AWAY
It’s in my nature to badger a problem to death, but it’s often best if I simply leave my kids alone. They get grumpy when they are confined by unrealistic expectations. Sure I’d like my kids to learn to ride their bikes by the time they go to college. But they may not be ready for that skill set when I think they should be. They also need time to play and imagine and explore. If I interrupt that critical kid time, on some primal level, they understand that something bad just happened.
I try to change my own mood. The kids are mirrors of me. If I’m distracted, they are as well. If I’m crabby, they feel the same. There is no way they will be cheerful if I’m not. What do I do if I don’t feel happy? I FAKE IT. My problems don’t have to be theirs and I might as well smile because no one wants to hear me whine.
Of course changing my own mood isn’t as easy as it might sound. I try and apply steps 1-4 for myself, and if that doesn’t work, I move onto 2 minutes of visualization exercises (just staring at a picture of a nature scene usually does it for me.) I do some deep breathing, try to figure out what the primary source of my stress is, acknowledge it and move on.
Why does mood matter? Why not just make the kids behave whether they want to or not? Practically, for us since our home is also our school, the kids need to get an education. If they’re crabby, they’re less likely to learn how Rome took a nosedive in history or why the commutative property is important in math. We also have an incredibly tight schedule in our house. I realize that goes against # 6 above, but it can be balanced out by # 4. Make sense?
Finally, I’d just as soon enjoy my time with my kids. If they’re whining or flopping around on the floor or making my life miserable, I’m not exactly eager to see them. I’m pretty sure they feel the same way about me.
There are lots of ways to address a child’s mood.
When you need to change the way your child acts,
sometimes it helps to find a pattern first.