The following post is by editor Kara Fleck. Portions of this article originally appeared in April 2010.
Having a bumpy day is what my swim coach used to call a very bad day. You know the ones: the days that start out a little tense and slide right down into miserable before we know exactly what went wrong. The days where all the roads seems uphill and covered in potholes all day long.
When our kids our younger, these bumpy times can often be straightened out with a quick hug, a cuddle, and a bit of sympathy before the tears are dried and the next, happier, moment arrives.
But, with older kids sometimes the bumpy days are a bit more complex. Friends disagree, siblings fight, feelings get hurt. Maybe something happened that made them feel angry or embarrassed. Perhaps your child doesn’t even know why she is upset, she just is.
Growing up isn’t easy, a fact we parents can be guilty of forgetting.
However, there are some ways a parent can try to help straighten out a bumpy day and offer some moral support to our big kids, too.
Slow Down, Be Still.
Like many of you perhaps, my first instinct when I am stressed out is to hurry and rush through the situation and “just get it over with already!“ I have noticed the same “hurry up” tendency in my oldest child when something is causing her stress. Knee-jerk reactions don’t get either of us very far.
Sometimes, if we can reevaluate the situation, we will realize it isn’t as bad as we first feared. Perhaps the words from a friend were misinterpreted or the homework isn’t as daunting as it seems. Taking some time can bring a change of perspective.
Clear the Calendar.
These days kids have many commitments. From karate lessons to swim practice to scouts, most kids have pretty full calendars.
We need to honor those commitments, of course, and teach our children the value of keeping our word, especially when others are counting on us.
However, I also think that there are times when it is prudent to re-evaluate the schedule. As a parent, sometimes we need to discern when a child truly needs a break. Everyone needs a day off to hang out in their pajamas every once in a while, or a night with an early bedtime, even our kids.
Make Yourself Available to Talk. Or Just to Listen.
Sometimes after a bad day your child needs someone to open up to. Make space in your day to connect with them one on one.
Some kids aren’t going to open up and talk right away. Give these kids some time, without pushing too hard for details, and provide them with opportunities that allow them to open up to you on their own time.
Take a drive together or go for a walk after dinner. Sit on the edge of their bed for a few moments longer before tucking them in and give them the chance to talk to you.
I know that for myself, as a parent, nothing makes me feel worse than not being able to instantly fix everything for my kids. But fixing everything for my kids isn’t my job and it isn’t yours either.
You don’t have to have all the answers. Kids, like grown-ups, sometimes just want someone to listen and sympathize while they work their problems out.
But Be Prepared to Give Your Child Space, too.
Usually when my oldest daughter is upset she will accept a hug from me and we will talk about what is upsetting her. However, there are times when all she really wants is to be left alone. In those times, my duty as her mother is to give her that space and to make sure that her younger siblings leave her alone, too.
Sometimes when she is alone she reads or writes in her journal. Sometimes she cries and pounds her pillow. While it breaks my heart to hear her cry and my first instinct is to rush to comfort her, I must respect her wishes when she has asked for “alone time.”
More often than not, when she gets some time to herself she emerges calmer and more at peace, if not happier, and then she is ready to talk to me about what was upsetting her. She is much like her mother in that way.
We can’t protect our kids from every upset, broken heart, or disagreement. We can’t guarantee them that life won’t sometimes include bumpy days. Sometimes we may even be the cause of those bumpy days.
What we can do is love them without condition, listen to them, respect their feelings, and remind them that tomorrow is a fresh start and a new day.
What do you do when your child is having a bumpy day?