Do you live with a Moaning Myrtle* or a child with a high agitation level?
My youngest daughter is such a child, and let me tell you life with her (at 3.5) is loud and can be very frustrating for both of us. Most days, she wakes up wailing. This is followed by wailing for a variety of reasons throughout the day.
Have you seen the Reasons My Son is Crying Blog? It’s hysterical. Our life, not so much.
It can be very tough. It is also very isolating.
It is especially frustrating when people say in a pseudo-sympathetic tone, “I don’t know how you do it.” (Please, just don’t). Some children (like adults) are just wired differently. If you have a calm, easy going child, you are a very lucky individual. Then there are those of us who have a child who is easily agitated and we need to adjust our strategy a bit.
Here are some things to consider:
- Children whine and cry because it is the only tool they have.
- The most important thing you can do is to remain calm. This can be.really.hard. I try to remember to use breathing techniques to center myself like the 4, 7, 8 breathing technique.
- Get down to the child’s level and ask what he/she needs. My husband swears by this-eye contact. He feels it is validating for the child to have your attention for that moment. For our daughter, sometimes that validation is all that is needed to break the moaning/crying/whining cycle.
- Children don’t understand why the house needs to be cleaned or why we have to be somewhere. All they know is that they aren’t the center of their parents’ world. For young children, this can trigger anxiety which is manifesed in moaning/whining. A hug can go a long way to managing moods. The brief physical contact reminds them that they are loved and important.
- Distraction can work like magic. When my daughter starts up, especially if it is something extremely trivial, we distract her with pointing out/discussing something that may be of interest, (“did you see that deer, rabbit, squirrel on the side of the road?”). Ignoring the behavior, for our child, doesn’t work when she starts to ramp up.Distraction that she can engage in does help redirect her.
- When your child is NOT engaging in the negative behavior, now it is time for attention and praise. This should be reasonable (children aren’t fools, they can smell empty platitudes from a mile away, even at 3 years old). There was an interesting article I read recently that focuses on restating the child’s independent actions as a means of praise
Here’s an example. My daughter, A, gets agitated when asked to wait when she wants help and I’m doing something else. When she is able to wait for me to complete a task and get to her I can say, “A, you waited without crying. Let’s get you what you want.” In this sentence, I have restated the desired behavior (waiting without crying) and she gets positive attention plus the desired goal (what she wants).
- A regular routine with sleep is important to maintaining equilibrium. I can tell when my children are tired by their behavior. My daughters both (even the easy-going twin) become more agitated and less resilient when they are tired. It becomes harder to redirect and distract. When that happens, if at all possible, we try to retreat for a nap.
- Nutrition is also important. Is your child hungry and/or thirsty? I am guilty of forgetting these simple things sometimes when A starts to escalate. I keep healthy snacks in a small Tupperware bin in my car so we have something healthy if we need it.
I do a lot of reframing for my own mental health. I choose to focus on the good things that go well for A on a given day (and we are usually more good than bad). This helps tremendously. She truly is a, “sunny with a chance of scattered thunder showers” type of child as opposed to a “monsoon for the next week.” and I need to keep that in perspective.
I hope that this adds some insight and strategies for dealing with your own moaning myrtles. I wish you a weather forecast of nothing but sunny days with calm seas in your life with your child.
Do you have such a child? What has worked for your family? I’d love to hear it.
*(Moaning Myrtle was a ghost in the Hogwarts bathroom in the Harry Potter series)