What kid doesn't love summer-time? Schools are out, camps are in, and everyone’s buzzing about the next big family vacation. There’s also that relentless summer heat, cooled only by a dive in the pool, a run through the sprinklers, or a few trips down the (only a little dangerous) Slip n’ Slide.
Your children might experience a second kind of heat, and it’s perhaps a little less easily appeased. I’m referring to “heat” of the emotional persuasion. The kind often associated with irritability, combativeness, and anger. It may translate into an attitude after “What should have been a great day!” Or perhaps it’s a distinct mood-shift from “happy-go-lucky” to “whiny, short, and grumpy” as soon as they’re picked up from a friend’s house.
Whatever it might be, the reason is often simple: your youngster needs some time to let down from a stressful and exhausting day. I’m sure we can all relate to the experience of “being on” for hours and hours- maintaining a positive attitude at work, negotiating interactions with peers and colleagues, exerting copious amounts of energy to accomplish an array of tasks. As soon as we get home where it’s safe to turn off, we untuck our shirts, kick off our shoes, and and allow ourselves to feel the emotions we’ve been intentionally or unintentionally repressing for the past eight hours. Children experience a similar release.
You might be thinking, “What on earth could be stressful about being an 8 year old?” Well, lots of things. For you it’s a day at work dealing with difficult coworkers, for them it’s a field trip to the Jelly Belly Factory and feeling upset they didn’t get to sit next to their best friend on the bus (don’t tell me you’ve forgotten what that’s like). Unbeknownst to them, they’ve had a day full of countless feelings they aren’t totally sure how to name or handle. Ultimately it’s less about the content of the stress (the what), and more about the emotional processes beneath it (the why).
As an adult I need about thirty minutes to regroup at the end of a long day, and with that, a thirty minute grace period for some of my less-than-ideal responses and emotions. It only makes sense a child would need the same. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t hold our children accountable for their behavior, but on some level I would imagine they too are aware their sassy back talk isn’t appropriate. Our best response is to be aware of what might be going on, and help them develop awareness of it as well. Validate and normalize what they might be thinking and feeling, and brainstorm with them ways to express it in more constructive ways (after they’ve had a chance to cool down). Don’t patronize them, and most importantly, trust the parenting you’ve already done.