Late-afternoon crankiness is a very real thing for kids attending school. They’ve (mostly) held it together for their teachers all day, and home is their safe place, so as soon as they see us, their parents, they may feel compelled to unleash all of the day’s frustration.
Maybe their first subject of the day is also their least-favourite subject. Or they sit next to a classmate they don’t particularly get along with. The only time it rained all day was when it was their turn to go outside for recess. And the lunch line was so long they only had five minutes to eat. And so on.
If we’re trying to cheer them up by telling them how everything is going to be ok, by offering advice or trying to fix their problem, we’re probably not being helpful.
As clinical psychologist Wendy Mogel tells the Washington Post, “It deprives them of the opportunity to be crabby and cross.”
And who among us doesn’t like to vent now and then? The best thing we can do for our kids is what we would want from our partner or friend when we’ve had a bad day — be a good listener and acknowledge their feelings. This is what’s known as “reflective listening,” and here’s how that might sound when you’re talking to your kids:
“It sounds like maths class was really overwhelming today.”
“You must have been so disappointed to not be able to go outside for recess.”
“It’s ok to have a bad day.”
“I’m sorry you had a tough afternoon.”
The key, marriage and family therapist Emory Luce Baldwin tells the Post, is to remind them (in subtle ways) that the best feelings in the world don’t last forever, and neither do the worst feelings.
“We don’t want to preach or teach to our kids, particularly when they are upset,” she says. You can say that you are sorry they feel so bad right now or that you can understand that the day was a really tough day.
“Show that you’re affirming that this was today, this is now. Don’t use a global ‘I’m sorry you’re so upset’ or ‘It’s terrible that you hate school,’ ” Baldwin advises. “Respond in a way that helps kids hear this isn’t a permanent thing.”
Of course, if our kids are dealing with a deeper problem, such as ongoing or disruptive conflict with a peer or teacher, it may be time to step in. In those cases, we are right to help brainstorm solutions and offer additional support. But sometimes, a bad day is just a bad day, and tomorrow will be better.