Four reasons your child is in a bad mood

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By Úna Rice

Where do children’s bad moods come from? One minute they can be happily going about their business, and the next there’s an unequalled scowl and you can’t seem to console or soothe them. Where as an adult will explain why they’re upset, a child can’t often find the language to articulate this strong emotion. Decoding your child’s bad mood may be a lot easier than you think though. There are invariably key triggers.

Hunger
Something as simple as hunger can trigger a bout of ranting and tears of frustration from your child. If you’ve got a little picker on your hands who is never much in the mood for breakfast, and therefore skips it, doesn’t finish the lunchbox and comes home from school in a strop at the mere prospect of homework, then an empty or dissatisfied tummy may be to blame. Processed, junk and sugary foods like many breakfast cereals, while they may give a quick fix to hunger, tend not to fill tummies for long, meaning that your child has a quick dip of energy followed by more hunger which can trigger an emotional response. An empty tummy at school contributes to lack of concentration and sleepiness leading to irritability. To combat this a slow energy release breakfast like porridge keeps them fuller for longer in the morning. According to Safefood.eu lunches provide one third of daily nutritional needs and they recommend keeping them interesting by offering lunches on a theme (Mexican, Italian), varying types of bread used and offering different foods each day. This will take the edge off that ravenous feeling when they come in the door after school, and is another bad mood avoider. Ensure they get a filling nutritious snack immediately after school – like soup – to keep them in the mood for homework.

Lack of sleep
Your child may be in a fowl mood like no other because of a simple lack of sleep – but not just the type that can be remedied by one early night. The lack of sleep deficit that experts warn that children may be experiencing these days is cumulative and children may well be in general, sleep deprived. To correct this, changes in routine and patterns are needed, such as developing great and consistent sleep habits, like going to bed at the same time every evening, and winding down to a book rather than a stimulating lit up screen. Poor sleep habits affect concentration, schoolwork, behaviour and mood, and one early night won’t fix it basically.

Teenagers are renowned for staying up late and not surfacing in the morning, but they too need consistent sleep habits as experts have found they may require slightly more sleep than a 9 or 10 year-old sibling. Not only are great sleep habits of benefit for alertness and to fight bad moods, critical hormones are also released during sleep, another good reason for your pre-teen and your teenager to stick with the routine.

Puberty
Parents can be amazed, astonished and quite terrified when their once charming, fun and compliant eleven or twelve-year-old suddenly starts to talk back, argue, get into a sudden rage for seemingly no reason and be irrational to the point that you can’t reason with them. The release of puberty hormones and your child’s developing brain can make your child feel overwhelmed as it’s an emotive time with lots going on for your child to cope with, physically and emotionally. One rule of thumb to survive your child’s puberty with your sanity intact, is to drop your expectations when it comes to their responses as they are probably not going to meet your adult requests and demands with anything close to an adult response, but possibly silence, grunts, or a rant. The other rule is to expect plenty of puberty moods as this phase can go on for some time and at the moment your child cannot help the way they feel as many of the emotions experienced can be overpowering. The good news is by the late teen years your adolescent should have come through this stage. Until then, pick your battles wisely.

Overwhelm
Are you familiar with that feeling when you have too much to do and you are hurtling from one event to the next with little rest or calm? Overwhelm, whether it’s physical (racing and running) or mental (stress or worry) can manifest at a point where you literally break down and cry or snap at the next person who makes a demand of you. It’s no different for children; everyone has a point where they must stop and regroup and this is why relaxation is so beneficial for children and teenagers. A child can be overwhelmed by extra tasks or activities in the afternoon, on top of a bad night’s sleep and perhaps something that’s still bothering them, like a comment a teacher made in passing, or an issue with friend. Your child may even have worries or concerns that they have not vocalised as they don’t know who to turn to or how to start the conversation. This is one reason why studies have found that meeting around the table at meal times is one of the best ways to get children to open up about their problems – it’s a relaxed, warm place. Relaxation techniques like guided children’s meditations or essential oils and even massage can all be used to help a child chill out before it all gets too much.

Catherine Devane