Living with an emotionally dramatic child is no fun. They throw wet blankets over nearly every family gathering or outing. Little is right in their lives and attempts to cheer them up generally fail and often result in things getting worse for all concerned. The parents of mini-malcontents don’t really want them around but feel guilty at not wanting them around. They can’t win for losing.
Mental health professionals are wont to explain misanthropic kids as suffering biochemical imbalances; or, they describe them as “manipulative.” No one has verified the existence of the former, thus leaving the latter.
The child’s moodiness certainly looks manipulative. He slides into an inexplicable funk and his parents begin trying to pull him out. The more they pull, however, the more he funks. And around and around they go.
“This is your child’s way of attracting attention. Actually, it’s a sign of something amiss in his life that he doesn’t know how to explain. He feels perhaps that his younger sibling has usurped his position in the family and is receiving preferential treatment. Can you think of why your son might feel that way?”
Blah, blah, blah. Moodiness is a bad habit some people fall into and then, after the fact, invent reasons to justify it, as in, “You never punish him for that!” More often than not, parents then attempt to persuade the child that his perception of events is mistaken. They engage on his terms, as opposed to saying, “Well, that’s not true at all and we have no intention of wasting our time with your foolishness” and walking away.
Horrors! Is the reader to conclude that I am insensitive to moody children? Yes, the reader is to so conclude. The overwhelming number — 99 percent, by my experienced estimate — of moody children are living what any objective witness would affirm are good lives. They have simply, inexplicably, developed bad emotional habits. These bad habits are indeed psychological states, but they do not merit pseudo-scientific psychiatric diagnoses. The simplest explanation (usually, in nearly all circumstances, the best) is that children, being naturally inclined toward soap opera, are quick to seize upon the opportunity. The opportunities in question, including parents who unwitting cooperate in their dramas by trying to understand and talk their children out of them, are like crack cocaine — both quickly addicting and quickly debilitating.
The parents of a 9-year-old perpetual pessimist asked my advice. “Tell him you’ve consulted with an expert on moody children and learned that moodiness is caused by sleep deprivation,” I said. “On any given day, when he’s being moody, simply point it out to him and ask if he needs a nap. He will, of course, say no. If the warning doesn’t suffice and his moodiness continues, send him to bed as soon after dinner as possible. Mind you, early bedtime is not a punishment. It is to help him catch up on his sleep and be in a better mood.”
The parents followed my instructions. Within a week, “Do you think you might need a nap?” was sufficient to snap Master Moody out of his doldrums. Within a month, he was a happy-go-lucky kid again, delighted at having overcome his sleep deficiency.
Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.