Are you tired of asking your child to do something — over and over again — and all you get is a grumble? Or your child obeys, but reluctantly, and not without protest. Neither children nor adults always do things with a cheerful spirit, but there are ways to make children’s attitudes easier to live with.
Model cheerfulness. When your child brings you a reasonable request, give your child the message, “Sure, Mary, I’m glad to please you!” — even though her request is inconvenient and you are less than thrilled about driving her to the pool for the third day in a row. Getting a “glad to do it” response makes the child happy she asked and models cheerfulness for the next time you ask the child for help.
Mirror grumbling. If your child grumbles about doing a task, help him to understand how it feels to be on the receiving end of a grumbled response: “For the next few hours I’m going to be a grumble-puss.” After your child gets a grumbling response from you, he will get the point that it’s no fun to be around a crank.
Time-out the grumbler. “Johnny, I expect you to be agreeable when I ask you to do something — like I am when you ask me. Please go sit in the other room for five minutes and think about how grumbling makes everybody feel. When you’ve decided to quit grumbling, come and tell me about it. Our home would be no fun to live in if everybody grumbled.”
Minimize grumble times. Nip grumbles in the bud before they become part of a child’s personality. “Billy, please help Mommy set the table.” “Why do I have to do everything?” Billy protests, and he clicks on his litany of complaints. At the first hint of a grumble, call it what it is: “That’s a grumble. I don’t want to listen to it.” The use of job charts is the best way to keep track of who does what and when, so no one “always has to do everything.” We have used motivational charts to weed out grumbles from the garden of childhood.
Cheering up the grump. Everyone is entitled to be crabby once in a while, but when it goes on and on, it’s time for parents to step in. Grumpy children are no fun for themselves or others. Here’s how to perk up the grouch.
Figure out why the child is grumpy. Some children are grouchy at certain times of the day. The morning grouch may need time, space, and breakfast to re- enter the world after a night’s sleep, or a bit of humor to lift still-tired spirits. The late-morning grump may be tired or hungry, a signal for a nap or an early lunch. The after-school crank may need a similar tonic, an energizing snack and a brief nap to recuperate from common after-school ailments, such as a school bus headache, tension build-up, or even boredom following all the stimulation of the classroom. The evening crab is probably just worn out and either needs a late afternoon nap or an earlier bedtime. All of the above may just need to be left alone to grump for a while and nothing else. Respect that, and have as your only request that family harmony not be upset.
If your previously pleasing child suddenly turns into a grouch, suspect an illness, or a recent upset in her life. If something is gnawing at her, the internal anger will affect her external mood. Time to do some searching for the reason why your sweet child turned sour. Direct questioning will probably not work as well as just being available to listen when she’s ready to talk. Connected kids usually don’t wait too long to seek out a listening ear. Remember, sensitivity is what connected kids understand.
Busy the grump. A wise preschool director had a favorite motto: “Boredom is a choice.” We adopted her motto when Peter began using “I’m bored” a lot. We let Peter know that he was responsible for his own moods. If he didn’t pick up the subtle hint, we’d make it more obvious: “Pete, you have lots of choices — help me with the dishes, then we’ll bake cookies; get out your new books from the library; or go see if your friends are playing outside.” If he refused to choose something to do, we sent him off to another room to be bored on his own. One way or another, he got busy doing something he really enjoyed.
Humor the grump. Try these tactics: “Sally has a grumpy face. I sure miss the happy face. Let’s see if we can paint one on.” Then stroke your child’s face pretending to color away the frown. Children like this special touch, and a laugh loosens up the smile muscles in a tight face. (This will probably not work for morning grumps.)
Don’t squelch every crabby moment. The child’s emotions are a gauge of what’s going on inside. Just as you can’t safely drive your car without gauges, you can’t sensitively care for a child who doesn’t show emotion. Let your child know: “It’s okay to feel yucky. Tell us what’s bothering you, because talking about it will help you feel better.” “It’s okay to gripe sometimes if you don’t really want to do something, but let me know how you feel using a nicer voice.” “I love you even when you’re grumpy. I’d rather see a real grumpy face (and hear you talk about it) than see a phony happy face.”