Riding out the waves of a bad mood…

I imagine I’m not alone in having children who seem to have waves of emotions flowing through them, sometimes without any external events triggering the change from one emotional state to another?
If your kid suddenly gets gloomy or mad, then a few minutes later is all sunny and happy again, seemingly without anything causing the change, you know what I mean.


I think that a part of it is biochemical with my kids: if they have sweet treats then it’s a sure bet that 30-45 minutes later they’ll be finding reasons to get upset, either with the injustice of the world (“how come Mike gets to have a Gameboy and I can’t? That’s not fair!“) or with otherwise irrelevant events in their lives (“I have to go to bed the same time as I did last night? No! I won’t do it!”).
Sometimes, though, these emotional tsunamis come and go without any dietary contribution, sometimes it’s just exhaustion (for example, the day after a sleepover I know that my daughter A- will be in what I can charitably call a “fragile emotional state” or uncharitably refer to as The Godzilla Moment), but other times it’s just seemingly random.
We see this more with our 11yo A- than the younger ones, so I’m sure it’s related to the hormonal changes associated with menarche (which we haven’t reached yet, but it’s surely just around the corner), but it seems to me that all kids have a touch of this, as do, for that matter, most adults.
What I’m learning — finally! — is how to deal with these moments. Before I would argue / discuss the perceived injustice, playing right into the situation. After all, if their perceived injustice or upset is not caused by external events, is there really anything to talk about or explain? Now I’ve been trying a different, calmer strategy, where I simply acknowledge their upset and stop talking.
To my amazement (as in “duh, why the heck didn’t I do this earlier?”) it seems to be a quite successful strategy. Instead of getting sucked into the mood, I let the waves come and go without my intervention and they seem to leave us far sooner.
For example, this morning A- and I were walking to school and Linda called to tell me that she was keeping G- home for the day because he seemed exhausted and just probably needed some time off. Okay with me. A-, however, got very upset and complained that it wasn’t fair and that she didn’t get to take the day off. I just said “l hear your complaint. Life isn’t always fair.” and left it at that.
She stomped along, upset, and then, no more than thirty seconds later, the clouds lifted, the gloom dissipated, and she was fine again. No argument, no thrashing, no pushing her mood onto me. Wunderbar!!
How about you, how do you generally handle the seemingly random mood swings of your children?

7 comments on “Riding out the waves of a bad mood…

  1. Don’t forget Red Dye #40 and the other lovely dyes. One of my good friends has a son whose triggers those are.
    I recently started doing the same as you. My original response (with my 4-year-old) was silence, but that didn’t help either – that was my mother’s response, and I just felt pushed away. Validating his feelings – whether I tell him about a time I felt the same way (“My little brother used to get in my way too”) or simply tell him I understand – helps both of us feel better, and helps him cope better. I am so thankful I didn’t have to stick with the old way! Compassion and empathy really do carry more weight than most people give them credit for!

  2. You just implemented Love and Logic.. congratualtions!! Yup.. Empathy … and don’t give in.. lo and behold.. it’s done.. it’ll even get better the more you do this.
    The trouble seeps in when you say “Life’s not fair” in a sarcastic tone.. THAT will turn a wave into a Tsunami.

  3. With a 13 month old, I’m still in the process of figuring out how to handle his mood swings. He’ll be playing happily with his toys and them BOOM…something upsets him. Trying to figure out what it can be can so difficult! Sometimes I wish he could tell me, “That’s not fair!” just so I know what the problem is! 🙂 But I’m sure I’ll get enough of that in the future!

  4. Some days, my oldest can be so mercurial, I swear she skipped 5 and went straight to 15. One thing that has helped a bit is giving very concrete choices like, “I know you’re upset – you can either go do ______, or go to your room/the corner until you can calm down.
    This too shall pass!
    -Kristie

  5. I am so glad that I found this web site and particularly this article about bad moods. I have been at my wits end trying to figure out how to deal with my four year old daughter’s bad mooods (or bad attitudes as we call them). I really try to remain calm, always try validate her feelings, but my patience is really tested when she can’t seem to end it and carry on.
    I usually give her a couple of warnings about her behaviour (as bad attitudes usually mean she speaks rudely to one of us) and the third time it’s in the naughty corner for 4 minutes. After time out the bad mood is not magically over, but it seems to bring home that her behaviour has been unacceptable.
    Sometimes I think “If she’s like this at 4 what it’s going to be like when she’s 14?”, but I know that this too shall pass.

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