Soothing the grumpy child

Mornings are difficult enough in getting kids up, fed and out the door for school. Add a grumpy child to the mix and it won't be long before everyone is stressed. Here are some ways to subdue the grumpiness before it infects everyone.

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  • One of the most well-known forces of nature is that every one of us at some point will have a wake-up-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-bed morning. We wake up in a grumpy mood and sometimes it sets the tone for the entire day — not just for us, but for everyone we interact with.

  • Unfortunately, children seem to pick up on the "bad mood" morning early in life and try to get as much mileage out of it as they can. Parents can usually deal with the occasional sour-mood morning. However, if it becomes a more frequent occurrence with one or more of your children, here are some ideas to help mollify the morning malcontent.

  • Create an environment that eases stress

  • A cluttered physical environment sets a tone of stress and chaos which makes it difficult for a child to regulate behavior. Having to sift through two or three layers of clothes, books, toys and half-eaten sandwiches to find the other shoe can turn an otherwise pleasant atmosphere into a war zone. If you have limited space in your children's bedrooms, try to minimize the amount of stuff that you keep in those rooms by putting toys, books and art supplies in another location. This makes it easier for children to keep their rooms clean.

  • Encourage some "wiggle" time

  • If a child is having a particularly rough morning, encourage him or her to go run around somewhere that is away from the rest of the family. My daughter has ADHD so mornings are usually challenging to get her to focus on getting ready for the day. On particularly difficult mornings, we just stop what we're doing and have her go outside (even during the winter) and run, skip, or ride her scooter to the end of the block two or three times.

  • Most mornings are usually rushed so there might not be a lot of time for this kind of activity, but even just a little exercise can help improve a child's mood. It might be that she just needs to take some time to regain her composure. On occasion, I have taken my daughter to school late due to having a grumpy morning, but the rest of the day usually goes better after she has had some exercise.

  • Develop a routine

  • When children are old enough to do more things for themselves, set up a morning routine that your child can follow on his or her own without your assistance. Try to keep the routine simple. If necessary, write out the routine and post it in a highly visible location.

  • It is best if your grumpy child has limited interaction with other members of the family until he or she has a more pleasant demeanor. You can just explain to your grumpy child that you prefer not to deal with a sour mood. She knows what needs to be done to get ready for the day and there will be consequences if it doesn't happen. A lot of times, the consequences will be natural such as being late for school or missing out on an activity.

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  • Prepare as much as you can the night before

  • At the end of the day, you're likely so exhausted that you can't see straight. But, if you can muster enough energy to prepare backpacks, lunches and clothes for the next day, your morning routine will go more smoothly. So if your child feels slightly less than thrilled in the mornings, you can at least reduce the amount of atmospheric stress by having more things done.

  • Impose consequences for grumpy behavior

  • Most of the time, to get your point across, you need to impose consequences, such as extra chores or the loss of privileges. When you do this, make sure that you clearly explain the consequence and how it aligns with the behavior. Children will likely repeat certain behaviors so the consequences are necessary to discourage repeat offenses. As with any form of punishment, don't just tell your child what he or she did wrong, explain to your child why the behavior was wrong and what the desired behavior would be.

  • Mornings are usually challenging — especially when everyone in your family needs to accomplish specific tasks and arrive somewhere by a certain time. When one family member is feeling grumpy, it can have a negative impact on everyone in the family. By reducing the overall stress in your home, establishing a routine and preparing for each day in advance, you can enjoy more grumpy-free mornings.

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David is the father of two girls (16 and 9) both diagnosed with ADHD. He is a stay-at-home parent and works as a freelance writer.

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