Over the years, there have been a lot of times when my one of my children has suddenly seemed like a totally different child. My previously angelic toddler suddenly was aggressive and obstinate, my baby who had slept well at night was suddenly an unhappy night owl, or my normally calm preschooler just seemed miserable and impossible to please.
After a while, I started to see patterns and there was generally something that was missing or something that was going on to explain the behavior. Since it could be hard to remember all the little things that contribute to happy, healthy kids when life is overwhelming, I actually put up a post-it note on my fridge for a while as a reminder of questions to ask myself. When my kids became teens, I even found that a modified list often gave me insight into why they sometimes seemed to spontaneously grow horns. 😉
If your child is acting worse than usual lately, whether it’s being especially cranky, clingy, angry, tearful, violent, sad, hyper, argumentative or otherwise off, here’s a checklist of things that might play a part.
Has she/he had enough:
- Food, especially protein (hungry kids act up!)
- Exercise (kids NEED physical exertion and sensory activities)
- Mama/Daddy time (kids will often do anything for our attention, even if it’s negative attention)
- Sleep (tired kids are cranky kids!)
- Vitamins/DHA (whether from foods or supplements, these play a part in everything from health to mood to brain function)
- Stimulation (bored kids will create chaos)
Could she/he be:
- Teething (this can be very painful for little ones and teeth come in during infancy, toddlerhood and around 5 or 6 years old)
- Getting sick (some children will get especially cranky one or two days before coming down with an illness)
- In pain (undiagnosed ear infections and other hidden problems can be terrible on children who don’t have the words to tell parents what’s wrong)
- Nearing a 6 month or 1 year birthday (for unknown reasons, many young children go through emotional growing pains on a pretty regular schedule at these times)
- Dealing with something stressful (changes in the family or the child’s routine, stress in other family members, etc. can have a big influence)
Behavior is a way that kids let us know what’s right and what’s wrong in their lives. If your child’s behavior seems really off, go through the checklist and see if you can find a reason. You know your family best so you may know some things that should be added to your list, but this gives you a general idea.
Keep in mind that kids don’t just act rotten to drive us crazy and even if we can’t figure out why, they may have a real reason for the crazy-making behavior. If you can’t find the reason, a little extra love often makes it better anyway.
Note: I wrote this piece for a parenting column I had years ago, and later used the same sort of list with my teens. I have found that this stuff is often true for us grown ups too! 😉