MOM: You can start by asking questions that you’re not going to get any answers to like “You know I notice that you’re really cranky today, is there something going on?” The kid will not really understand what that’s about but you’re in the process of teaching them. So it isn’t like you expect the kid to come up with a clear answer, you just want to start this process of thinking about behavior and connecting feelings with behavior. It’s a very long process to do with children. You have to gear it towards the age of the kid. This is a very important process.
MOLLY: Are you saying they can start putting together that if they are feeling some way, they can think about why they’re feeling like that?
MOM: Right. Now, the parent really has to help the child with this. The younger the kid the more help kids will need, but you’ll have to help 9-year olds, too.
MOLLY: So how do you do that?
MOM: Well you do it by saying something like, “I’ve noticed that you seem very cranky when you don’t get enough sleep. When you go to bed too late at night, then you don’t get enough sleep, and then you’re cranky all day because you’re tired.”
The child might be able to relate to this, it depends on their age. So you might say, “How do you think we can help so you’re not so cranky?” You always want to draw a child into the solution to a problem so they can own part of it. You might get a response out of the child, depending on the age, and then you might say, “You know, I wonder if you went to bed at 7 instead of 7:30 if that would give you enough sleep and then you wouldn’t be so cranky all day. Let’s give that a try. Let’s do that all week and see what happens. You and I will talk about how you feel after you get a good night’s sleep.”
It’s not like you can resolve everything in one little talk because it’s such a process. Then you follow through the next day and institute the earlier bedtime, and the kid might or might not make the connection, but I think they will.
MOLLY: Or it could be something like: “Let’s see if you can eat a little more of the healthy snacks now because I noticed that if you don’t eat enough then you get cranky.”
MOM: That’s the right idea. It’s whatever you’ve observed with the child, but you have to be paying attention. The parent has to pay attention to these things so that you can resolve them.
MOLLY: That leads to a bigger question of what do you do if you’re a working parent and not around to see these things and make the connections?
MOM: Well it’s very hard. What you would do then is that you would talk to the caretaker. You might say, “Look, I’m really worried that Johnny is so cranky all day long. Do you think he’s eating enough? Maybe he needs more regular protein snacks?” I would go for the basics – food, sleep, toilet training. You want to engage the help of the person who is taking care of your kids, and you want that person to share it with you when you return because you need to know as a parent what’s going on when you’re not there. Then you can support the process, too.