Question: My seven year old son is always very grumpy at the end of the day. He becomes very intolerant with his younger brother. I told him that it was unpleasant because everybody is tired at that time. Do you have any suggestion to help us having a better time together? – Nadia
Answer: As always, it’s best to look for positive solutions first. Let’s begin by evaluating daytime schedules and daytime events. What is your 7-year-old’s day like? If you think his schedule is as full as a CEO, his grumpiness may be a way of letting off steam. Certainly, this is not acceptable behavior but the best solution will be reworking his schedule. Also, in addition to evaluating the number of activities, I would evaluate the stressfulness of the activities themselves: Is your son experiencing new demands (physical, emotional, intellectual, or social) in school or in after-school activities? In a casual way, ask your son some probing questions to see how he’s doing and then support him in meeting those new challenges.
I think it will also be useful to look at the demands of your schedule: how do you transition from work to home? Do you give yourself enough time and space to shift gears? Once you are home, family routines can be designed to support your needs and your children’s needs. You and your children may try to establish 15 minutes of quality time before tackling evening obligations: a walk, a swim, playing favorite music, anything but television. You may prepare meals together to give you time to connect with one another and let those bonding moments happen naturally. The best remedy for “grumpiness” is discovering routines that sustain us through the “bewitching hours.”
Last but not least, after all the positives are accomplished, children have a way of still misbehaving (darn!). Negative attention for the sibling behavior may be unintentionally reinforcing the behavior. Your “parent job,” should you choose to accept it, is to communicate your expectations clearly and be prepared to follow through with consequences when your child chooses not to comply (which is guaranteed). The expectation is clear: he must treat his brother with respect and kindness (at least when you are looking). What consequences can you enforce? Any consequence will do as long as it “matches” the misbehavior and it can be enforced with confidence. A consequence might be: explain to your son that every time he mistreats his brother his bedtime gets moved up 5 minutes earlier. No need to be angry or disappointed in his choices. You might even get a cardboard clock with moveable hands and set it for 9:00 “bedtime” for example. Just move the clock hands from 9:00 to 8:55 to 8:50 with each transgression on any given night until your son begins to understand the message. The clock, of course, gets reset to 9:00 for the next night. Let the consequences do the talking for you!
Lastly, show both children how to talk and listen to each other. Your goal is to be a family where everyone’s needs matter and family life supports your efforts.
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.