It is the season of the blues. Whether it is caused by lack of sunlight, too little outdoor time or post-holiday season let-down, many people are starting to feel down in the dumps – right about now. It’s not just adults, but kids too. In fact, kids can begin to feel particularly edgy as winter progresses. There may be lots of reasons for that, but I want to look at how a child’s mood can affect your mood as a parent.
Parents are like most other adults: they are subject to bouts of happiness or sadness, euphoria or depression, optimism or despondency. However unlike adults without children, parents are more likely to feel these emotions based on how their children are feeling.
As the expression goes, ‘you are only as happy as your least happy child.’
When your child is struggling, it’s hard to not let it get you down. It’s only natural to be upset by seeing the challenges that your atypical child encounters daily. But if you let it affect your mood, then you can’t help your child regulate his or her moods, right? Grouchy kid, grouchy mom? Not a good combination. You have to be at your best, so that you can help your child learn how to regulate their moods and their mental outlook. We naturally help children self regulate; one way is by modeling encouraging self talk: “you can do it!” or “it’s going to be ok, just relax”, or “it will only hurt for a minute, you can handle it”, these are important prompts to help encourage kids to model appropriate reactions.
But what happens when your mood becomes so submerged with your child’s mood that you can’t distinguish your bad mood from their bad mood? Does this mean that your own mood regulator is broken or simply you have lost the divider between what is your own mood and your child’s mood?
Separating your mood state from that of your child is important. Adults often submerge their individual identities as they raise children, they become “a family 24/7” rather than an individual in a family. This is partially a normal response but it can go too far.
Here is an example: you are on a double date with another couple and you haven’t been out with adult company for months. You want to enjoy yourself but you can’t because you keep remembering your child’s morose face when you left and you keep ruminating on how much homework he has and wondering if he is able to do it without you and if she was able to eat dinner without you monitoring and if they are going to get to bed, it’s a school night and they can’t be tired tomorrow morning…….and on your brain runs, unable to enjoy your adult company and special time away from your kids.
Because what happens next is that when your kid has a bad day, your mood plummets like a stone down the well. When your mood becomes dependent on whether or not Timmy has had a good day or bad day, you lose the ability to be the anchor to the family instead of a reactor. And atypical children often have moods that need to be managed, not reacted to.
Parents, work on your mood tune-up!
It is important that parents find their emotional set-point apart from how their children are doing. That way, you remember that you are still YOU, and not just your kid’s mother or father. This will come in handy both in helping your child self regulate as well as keeping you with one foot firmly planted in your individual life as a grown up person.
5 Quick and Easy Mood Tune-Up Tips
1. Listen to a happy tune: Research has shown that people who listen to cheerful music can improve their mood. Listening to music actually improves people’s moods so turn that radio dial to a happy music station!
2. Smile: the physical act of smiling has also been shown to improve mood. Even fake smiles reduce stress. Studies by Paul Eckman and other researchers has shown that smilers exhibited lower heart rate levels after a stressful activity than non-smilers. So even if you aren’t feelin it, paste that smile on your face!
3. Do good: do something good for someone else. Even a small gesture, such as giving a coin to a homeless person has been shown to lift a person’s mood. Try it for yourself and see.
4. Do good for yourself: when is the last time you took a moment to treat yourself? No, I don’t mean that bag of chocolate chip cookies. Maybe invite a friend out for coffee or excuse yourself after dinner to go for a long walk. Alone.
5. Shake it up: exercise raises your natural endorphin levels. The link between exercise and mood is well researched. Studies show that within five minutes after moderate moving produce a better mood. Too cold to go outside? Turn up the radio and dance! Even for a few minutes will raise the mood barometer.