BEHAVIOR - COPING WITH AN IRRITABLE CHILD (cont.)
Each of these clues leads to a different solution. Once again, parents are often
the experts and have been very creative in finding solutions for their children.
"We made a rule of only one sleep over a month and it had to be on a Friday on a long
weekend so seven-year old Kim had the rest of the weekend to catch up on her sleep.
Her friends' parents went along with this rule, thankfully".
"When I am expecting my PMS, I warn the family and make plans for some relief from
"When my husband goes out of town, we have different routines that ensure I can give
our son the extra attention he needs. Dad phones regularly to make sure Randy realizes
that he is okay, and did not, as five-year old Randy feared, go up in the sky to heaven
to be with Grandpa (which is what we finally realized Randy thought an airplane ride
'up in the sky' was all about)".
"Solutions to sibling rivalry? Get real! Oh well, I guess we have to hear the messages
and do what we can to make sure each child feels valued. Wish us luck!"
"We found that our nine-year old son would open up more about his life - and therefore
sometimes discover the reasons for his bad mood - if we went swimming with him and then
took him out for a one-on-one treat afterwards. For some reason, this combination seemed
to loosen him up and open the doors to communication".
But what if, in spite of all your great strategies, your child is grouchy and irritable
and snaps at everything you say? First of all - stay calm. Getting irritable, impatient
or angry with an irritable child (or adult) is just like pouring gasoline on a fire.
One family reported: "The more intense four-year old Nick became, the less intense we
were in response even to the point of answering him in a virtual whisper. We call it
counter-intensity and it is powerful! It seems to bring him right down".
"Along with remaining calm, we find the content of our response is important. We don't
tell ten-year old Alison not to be so irritable. But if he is so grouchy that
communication is impossible, we tell her that she had better come back and talk to us
when she can communicate better. Saying this without sounding mad is quite a feat but
that is the key, we find."
"Our eight-year old child is truly stressed by his own irritability. I had trouble
realizing this until our counsellor asked me how I liked it when I was in a bad mood.
So now we remind Zak about times that he has been grouchy before and point out that he
usually feels better in a couple of days. We can usually point out a specific instance,
such as 'the time you felt down about your bike being stolen'. This does help. He gets
all quiet and then goes and finds something to do".
"Watch out for analysis paralysis!! We used to dig and dig and dig to find out what was
making twelve-year old Suzanne so grumpy. She got worse and worse as we pressured her.
Now we just say: 'I guess you're not in a great mood today. You'll find a way to cope."
And she does. And we congratulate her for it".
"Sometimes we just need to lighten the whole situation up with a joke or some fun. We
all tend to get deathly serious at times in our family. It can be hard to know when to
tell a joke or tickle Amanda, but we are getting better at reading the signals and we
find our way through these down-in-the-dumps-days, as we call them".
TAKE ACCOUNT of all temperament traits
Another important factor in irritability is the extent to which a child is experiencing
stress or a poor fit because of other temperament traits. A child with a negative mood
is often a child who is low in adaptability, for example. This child will be more
negative during periods of change (such as starting a new grade) or when transitions on
sprung on her without warning. The child may also have strong withdrawing tendencies
and demands for sociability make bring out negativity. All the areas of stress need to
be addressed to bring about a positive change in mood.
LOOK for other problems of FIT
The 'high maintenance' child, by our definition, has extreme temperament traits but may
also have a learning disability or a health problem. Or the child may be experiencing
family stress. Not all, but many such children have a temperamental tendency to negative
mood. Don't dismiss the negativity as just an expression of temperament, though. Remember
that negative mood is just a tendency. The mood itself is a reflection of many factors,
including the child's general contentment and adjustment. This means that such a child
may often be VERY negative in mood expression because life is so much harder for him or
Work hard to reduce the stress to manageable levels but remember that you cannot remove
the tendency to respond to stress in this particular way - by becoming very irritable.