Straightening Out a Bumpy Day

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.

In reality, the best thing is usually to slow down, take a deep breath, and be still before taking action.

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?

About Kara

Kara Fleck is the editor of Simple Kids. She is a small town mama, writer, knitter, bookworm, and hooligan. Kara lives in Indiana with her husband Christopher and their four children Jillian, Max, Lucy, and Amelia. You can find more of her writing at

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  1. What seems to help my kids the most is getting outside. It can be difficult to throw the schedule out the window, and sometimes I have to drag them out, but it can really be helpful to get out into the fresh air, even into a natural area if we can. It also seems to help to sit down together and read. Sometimes a little snuggle time is all it takes to get us back on track.
    .-= Jennifer Johnson´s last blog ..Peace and Fighting =-.


    It’s really hard sitting back and letting them work things out on their own some times.
    .-= Angela´s last blog ..He’s Getting It =-.

  3. Such a great reminder! Sometimes it is so hard to see and treat our children as people, ones who have bad days and rough times. Great advice!
    .-= Paula@Motherhood Outloud´s last blog ..School, Intentionally =-.

  4. I agree with Jennifer, getting outside helps if weather permits. Switching gears and doing something active can help redirect energy and improve everyones mood.

  5. Kara- this post is so thoughtful and helpful. I’m going to pass it along to many of the families I know who would appreciate this. I certainly do. We have an emerging teen (AIT/ adult in training) on our hands. :)

  6. Basically, be a good friend to your kids when they’re having a hard time. Love it.
    .-= Joseph Nally´s last blog ..Mother’s Day, Not Mothers’ Day =-.

  7. Kristen says:

    Love this post, especially the part of clearing the calendar. Whenever sibling arguments get too big, we clear the calendar and stay home together. I find the problems are resolved very quickly.

  8. Great post! As a step mom to a 13 year old, all of these tips resonated with me. I’ve found that many times, her bad mood can be attributed to personal problems with friends or crushes – eventually, she is willing to talk, but not right away. Listening is so important!

    Also, suggesting a nap or some downtime you can share together, like watching a movie or laying on the porch in the sun. These things help too!

    Thanks for the great post.
    Melissa Gorzelanczyk

  9. I’ve found I also need to check myself and figure out if my kids are having a bumpy day… or is it mom?? Maybe I’ve just gotten a concerning email from a friend, or I’m preoccupied with a stressful work situation, or I’m short tempered from homones or lack of sleep. Some days when it seems my kids are really struggling, I realize that it’s really my own short fuse and inability to BE PRESENT with them that is the real source of frustration. Slow down, prioritize, engage… We all need these reminders.

    And some days, it’s just as important to acknowlege that the day is going to be a bust, pull out Mater and Lightening McQueen, and prep pancakes for dinner! There’s always tomorrow.

  10. I remember at times with my middle school age kids getting to a frustrated level with them in the afternoon knowing that they were just exhausted and frustrated. And I would send them to bed. Maybe for a nap or sometimes for the rest of the night. And you know what? They usually woke up in a MUCH better mood.
    Living the Balanced Life´s latest post: Are you stuck in a rut

  11. Thanks so much for such a helpful post. Bumpy days for me and my five-year-old are often connected to the fact that Daddy works a 50% travel job (and has since before she was born)–all the stresses associated with that take a toll on us and our relationship. My daughter seems to respond best if I slow down, validate her feelings (“I know it’s hard to keep a cheerful attitude when you really miss Daddy.”), and offer a cuddle or some one-on-time, like playing a game or reading a book. And I try to be VERY proactive–over the years, I’ve developed a whole bag of tricks for keeping our family thriving despite all the separation.
    Kathryn´s latest post: Olivia- Life in the Active Lane

    • Great point, Kathryn. My husband works crazy hours during Tax Season and it is pretty normal for the kids not to see him much during those months (he usually is gone before they awake and not back until well after bedtime). That time of year we seem to have a lot of bumpy days, but I agree w/ you that being proactive when you know that those times are coming is a big help.

      I’d love to hear about some of your tricks for keeping the family thriving!

      Best wishes!
      Kara @SimpleKids´s latest post: Straightening Out a Bumpy Day

      • I can really empathize with these comments, my hubby is on the road 1-2 weeks a month and often needs to leave with less than 48 hours notice. On those days, I put everything else on hold and focus on keeping everyone fed, clean(ish) and happy while I help daddy get packed up. There’s usually lots of laundry involved….
        Sarah Gainey´s latest post: Growing Bacteria in My KitchenOn Purpose

  12. we do a “time-in” – cuddle and talk (if my son wants too).

  13. i agree with others.

    fresh air does wonders for us too! i can almost see the anger and tension melt away once we are in the open air.

    breakfast for dinner on bumpy days helps too.



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