The Moody Child
Does your child have regular bouts of low moods? Read on for ways to cope with a perpetually moody child.
Little Mikie, age five, may be in a dark and angry mood on a sunny morning, then show a miraculous change after lunch or when a friend comes over.
The change is usually temporary, and he’s soon back to uncooperative and cynical. If he were a teen instead of a kindergartner, you’d say he has fits of depression. His mood changes are hard to understand and often a surprise.
Whether moodiness or depression, the problem is usually at its worst when the child claims to have nothing to do.
The TV tells both teens and children that most people are doing exciting and usually fun things. The exaggeration provides a depressing contrast to their average day. In the media story, the excitement is produced by an unexpected event which promises adventure. The kids watching have the mistaken impression that relief from boredom will come, not by effort but by fortune. While waiting around for fate to smile, they are depressed.
Most of us have leftover moments from childhood when we believe a certain thing or person would make us happy. Children are sure that if only they had that certain plastic toy, life would be complete. Teens are often misled by the media to believe that modeling a certain person, or having a certain companion would do it – without any further effort on their part. It takes a lot of adult experience to realize that happiness is a do-it-yourself job.
So the kids will often play a game with us:
Mopey Child: “I’m bored.”
Mom: “Why don’t you go outside?”
M.C.: “It’s too cold.”
Mom: “You could read your book.”
Mom: ” Well, why don’t you…”
Mom is usually suspicious that we are in a game of “I’ll bet you can’t make me happy,” but it takes time to finally say, “Well, I guess you’ll have to find something to do yourself.”
When your child gets depressed, avoid the temptation to argue her out of her depression. The argument provides attention for complaining and an opportunity to continue the relatively easy behavior of talking about being depressed as a kind of sick entertainment. You’re also at a disadvantage in
the argument because you’re talking with the only person who is an expert on how SHE feels!
If the TV has implied that other people have better lives, the most productive answer for the child will probably be her own effort to change her activity. The child’s discouragement may be a reaction to a recent mistake – forgotten homework, poor test score, misuse of work time. In either case, the best help from Mom or Dad will come from sympathetic listening and the child’s own activity – preferably in an area of success.
While trying to help your kids with their low moods, remember that long-continuing depression should be taken seriously. Avoid sending the message that if only he or she would “snap out of it and do something”
everything would be better. Belittling your child’s feelings is frustrating to him and has the danger of overlooking a serious problem that might be causing the depression. When depression continues in spite of extra activities and some parental listening, it’s time to explore the problem, and it may be time for outside help.
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