Cranky kid? 20 ways to deal
Make eye contact
Keep it simple
Just like adults, kids who are angry and frustrated get caught up in their own thoughts and feelings, which makes them physically and emotionally less able to listen to reason. So save the detailed discussion you’d have at another time, and limit your message to just a few words, perhaps even just one word if the child is less than 2 years old. Deliver a clear message that is easily understood, and be consistent.
Find out what’s wrong
It’s normal for little kids to be sad, angry, frustrated, tired, hurting—or some combination of those Conditions. Rather than focusing on simply trying to stop your child’s behavior, start by trying to find out what’s wrong. This approach can pay dividends in the heat of the moment as well as long-term: you are encouraging your child to speak up about why he’s unhappy, which puts you in the best position to help solve the problem. And down the line, demonstrating respect for his feelings will help him feel loved and may encourage him to do the same for others.
Video: Through a child's eyes
One way to calm a very young child, who doesn’t have the language skills to express her feelings, is to mimic her body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. Using single words or very short phrases, express in words what you think she’s feeling, and match her body language. It can calm her down to know she’s being understood, and she may be so fascinated by what you’re doing that she forgets why she was upset.
Teach deep breathing
This technique works for adults and it works for kids, too. First, practice it yourself so you know what to do, then demonstrate it for your child. Put your hand on your chest or diaphragm, and show your child how to take slow, deliberate and deep breaths. Make it look like fun, and your tot may be too intrigued by what you’re doing to remember that he’s upset. When he calms down, reward him with lots of hugs and smiles for paying attention and trying to follow your example.
Use the feelings chart
The laminated chart with simple line drawings of a face in a range of expressions from happy to mad to sad is a useful communication tool for parents. Start using it when your child is calm and happy, so that she gets comfortable pointing to the face that best expresses her mood. When she’s upset, bring out the chart and encourage her to use it to tell you what she’s feeling.
Reward good behavior, not bad
The time to bring out a favorite snack or treat is not when your child is misbehaving. Even very young children can learn that their actions have consequences. Some children act out because they want more attention from their parents; if that sounds like your child, schedule extra play time and together time. When your child misbehaves and the situation starts to escalate, a time-out (meaning a few minutes away from you) might be just the incentive she needs to change her behavior.
Master the time out
It may be heart-wrenching to walk away from a crying child but many child-behavior experts advise that, when used correctly, a time out can be an effective and kind way to let your child know that he has done something wrong. Not all misbehavior deserves a time out, so decide in advance which behaviors make the time-out list and let your child know what they are. When a time out is needed, calmly settle the child in a safe place and stay nearby, but don’t interact with him. Keep the time out short—start with a minute or two—and when the time is up be sure to reconnect with a hug and to reinforce good behavior when you see it.
Use rewards wisely
If your cranky child is at least 2 years old, he’s old enough to learn that good things happen when he demonstrates good behavior. Choose something you’d like him to do, such as going to bed without a fuss, and offer the reward as an incentive. When he does what you ask, he gets the reward; when he doesn’t, don’t give in. Use rewards judiciously, and make your child earn them. For rewards to have value, they can’t be something he knows he’ll get whether he’s good or not.
Babies respond well to movement such as walking, rocking and bouncing. Movement can also help older children shift their focus from their emotions to their feet, in what is known as walking meditation. Another bonus when you engage your child in movement is that he gets your undivided attention in a positive way.