Question: My 9 year old son is 80 percent of the time grumpy. He is happy when he is doing the things he likes to do, but if I ask him to show me his homework, to practice his writing, or if things don’t come out his way he gets grumpy. He is mostly negative and cries very easily. Any suggestions?
Answer: Start by looking over your son’s schedule. You say that he is happy when he is doing things he likes to do. While we all must do things we do not enjoy, most of us would be grumpy too if 80% of our time was spent doing things we do not like to do. Try to find a better balance to his day. He needs things he enjoys in his daily schedule. Would he like more physical play like bike riding or skate boarding or more quiet activities like reading comic books or drawing. Give him many opportunities to explore his interests and expand his talents – just for fun. Creativity and problem solving require unstructured experiences for children (and adults too) to take risks and to stretch their minds and bodies.
Homework and skill-practice can definitely feel like “work”, especially in areas that highlight our weaknesses instead of our strengths. For better or for worse, homework is a family event. Parental attitudes shape children’s attitudes about homework. Children need our help making homework less stressful and more meaningful. I applaud you for being involved checking his homework and expecting high standards for his work. Try becoming more of a homework coach (and cheerleader) than the homework police. Focus on his strengths and give him strategies to improve his weaknesses. (Of course, we all have weaknesses.) For example, if he writes quickly but sloppily, you can remind him to pay attention to the details not just getting finished. Remind him it takes longer when he has to rewrite. If he has trouble organizing his thoughts in his writing, give him a checklist to help remind him what to include. Ask his teacher for suggestions too. Be his partner as he tackles new concepts and learns more self-discipline. He is learning valuable skills for life and learning.
Personality and maturity also play a role in his reactions. Changing the environment will help with some of the negativity. But crying may just be the easiest way to express his frustration at this time. Try not to label him as emotional or babyish. Give him a few minutes to get himself calm and then ask him to express himself in words. Be ready to really listen without asking him to justify what he feels. If he says “I don’t want to do this anymore” or “I’m too tired to do homework (or chores)”, let him know you understand and you will try to help him finish as quickly as possible. He might even need a 10 minute break (e.g., to throw around a baseball but not for television). Some things are not optional (like homework and chores) but they are a little easier with a supportive coach at our side.
Be patient. Your son is at an age where he is being pulled in two different directions – the carefree freedom of younger childhood and the responsibilities of an older child. He is lucky to be growing up in such a close, caring family. is lucky to be growing up in such a close, caring family. }
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.