Have you found that your kids seem to choose the worst times to get worked up or refuse to do things - just when you have the lEast energy to deal with it?!
Chelsey, a mama I recently met in the US (where I'm living at the moment), asked me exactly this question.
Just the day before she'd been out all day at a conference. When she got home (exhausted), she took her her 5-year-old daughter and her partner out for dinner as a fun way to reconnect. But, she said, her daughter ruined the evening by refusing to eat the spaghetti and meatballs she'd been nagging for earlier and then demanding to go straight home.
Does this sound familiar to you? You have a crazy-busy day with all sorts of crises happening and, after all that, your son won't go to bed - he just keeps getting up. Or you come home worn out from a long day at work and your kids start fighting over who has to get in the bath first.
So what's going on?!
In a nutshell: they are missing the connection with you that they crave.
When your kids have been away from you all day, they've missed your support and the security of having you there. They've emotionally held it together all day and now they want comfort!
But their little minds don't have the awareness to recognise this and tell you: "Mummy, I need a cuddle coz I missed you all day." Instead they channel their feelings of unhappiness or stress into the everyday stuff like dinner or bath time.
They are trying to get your love and attention the only way they know how - by demanding you help them with the small stuff.
So: they don't want the dish they had requested for dinner only 20 minutes earlier. Or they only want to drink out of the pink sippy cup (not the green one). Or they crack it because someone moved their half-finished Lego!
This isn't attention seeking - that's a different thing. I call it "need-seeking". They deeply need to feel connected to you and supported and comforted. When your kids don't see you or when you're busy with other things, they feel cut off and this is uncomfortable for them.
(Attention-seeking is when a child wants more attention than everyone else and so turns into the class clown or the noisy maniac just to get noticed - a different issue altogether!).
By the way, have you noticed that plenty of adults do this "need-seeking" too? They get worked up about the poor service at the restaurant when really they're stressed about the criticism they got from their boss that day. Or they take out the argument they just had with their spouse on the driver in the car in front who is going "just too slowly". They are trying to feel better by externalising their difficult emotions, just like kids do.
So how can you head this off and avoid your kids whining or being difficult when you've got the least energy for it?
Here are three easy steps to take:
1. Recognise when your child is likely to feel cut off from you and take some time to reconnect - for example, if you've been working long hours or you've been away on a trip. Connecting means any of these things (whichever they will respond to best):
- Offering them a cuddle or hug (without forcing it on them);
- Coming down to their eye level and looking them kindly in the eyes;
- Touching them gently on the head/back/shoulder;
- Holding their hand;
- Making a joke or doing a funny game that makes them smile.
2. Every time you come home from a day of being apart from your kids, make reconnecting the first thing you do. Take 5 minutes to hug each child and ask them how they are. Tell them how much you missed them and how happy you are to see them.
3. When they do whine or complain, connect with them whilst dealing with the issue they have. You can either fix it (e.g. give them the pink cup they really want!) or distract them from it with a game or a joke. But be sure to be affectionate, gentle and loving at the same time, to help them feel more secure.
I recorded a Facebook Live video all about Chelsey's question just a few days ago in the Feed the Parent Facebook group - check it out there (it's a private group so if you're not already in the group, just click 'Join' and I'll approve you ASAP!).
I'm doing a weekly video in the group called Six Minute Solutions where I answer a parenting question each week - I'd love to hear any questions or issues you may have which I can answer for you! Go ahead and email me with your questions (no question is too big or small!)!
Wishing you a wonderful, connected week!
PS A heads-up that my 6-week online course, Parenting with Joy will be running again soon – head to this page to join the waiting list and you’ll be the first to hear about the Early Bird price!
PPS I'm having an adventure living in San Francisco for the next 6 months and doing lots of travel with my husband and daughter. I've started posting the pics and adventures in Instagram so if you're an Insta-fan then please follow me at feedtheparent on Instagram :-)