grumpy kids

On Not Letting a Child (or Anyone Else) Set the Mood For Your Day

The answer he didn’t want: NO.

I remember the day I came downstairs and realized I was watching to see what mood my three-year-old was going to be in. That’s because his mood set the tone for my day!

This kid spent his waking hours getting into things and playing outside the box, always outside the box. He made life fun and interesting for his siblings, but difficult for me. When he was bored (which was often), he’d get grumpy. That meant it would be a dreary, rainy-on-the-inside day. This kid’s mind was going a hundred miles a minute, but at the end of the minute, I was still on the first mile.

I grant you, it makes no sense to be “afraid” of a two-or-three-year-old, or to let his mood affect one’s day. Yet, that’s what I was starting to do. I gauged my day and my responses to his mood, instead of being the mom in the house. I was allowing him to be the thermometer, instead of me being the thermostat.

This kid was a fun one. His creative bent amazed and startled me at times. His daringness frightened me, for I wondered how many bones he might break before he turned three. His older brother followed his cues for fun things to do. They were a great balance. One, who based his activities on whether or not “it was safe”, and the younger one, who based his definition of fun activities on whether or not “it was dangerous” (his words, not mine).


I was the mom – and the nurse who had taken care of plenty of folks who did stupid things. I didn’t want my kid to get hurt, but I also wanted him to have fun. I certainly wanted to allow him to be creative.

I discovered that when I stifled him too much, he became restless, bored, and grumpy. I also discovered that he still needed me to be the mom and help him channel his energy into positive things, instead of seeing how much trouble he could cause. (Believe me, he could cause trouble.)

That particular morning, I decided it was time to take back the mood in my house. I could not allow his frustration to ruin my day, but I could help fun times happen and give him space to create without constantly stifling his bent. Proverbs does tell us to train a child according to his bent.

He was a happy child – as long as he could get into things. Yet, life didn’t always suit him because it seemed I said “No” more often than I said “Yes.”

One day I even asked him, “If I bake an apple pie just for you, do you think you can be happy?”

His tears changed to instant smiles, and we set to work making the pie. I used a store-bought crust, made a crumb topping, and used my homemade pie filling. At the end of the day, he  felt that I cared more about him than my housekeeping. He was happy and so was I. Turning my attention to him and finding something positive to do helped changed the tenor of our house that day.

He also loved being outdoors, but one place we lived had no fenced-in yard. There was a river at the bottom of a hill, cattle in pastures, and sounds of tractors across distant fields: all enticements he would not have withstood. It was  unsafe for me to allow him to be outside unsupervised. His older brother followed whatever parameters I set, but not this child. So, some days we’d slip outside for a walk. He’d toddle ahead of me, laughing and throwing his hands up in the air, so happy to be allowed to be outside for more than a few moments. I pushed my almost nine-months pregnant body to follow him along the gravel lane, knowing that tomorrow we’d both be happier because he got to spend thirty minutes outside again.


I found that it was up to me to decide the atmosphere in our home, and not his task. I took back the mood in our home in several specific ways.

  1. I said “yes” as often as I could. I allowed him to be the person he was instead of trying to stifle his energy.
  2. I said “no” when it was necessary so he could be safe and I could be sane.
  3. I refused to allow his mood to dampen my own. Truthfully, I had to consciously re-program my thinking each day and make a choice to be the mood-setter in our home.
  4. I became proactive instead of reactive. When it was a rainy-stay-inside kind of day, I planned surprises and offered incentives. When we are done tidying the house, THEN I will help you build a tower all the way to the ceiling! This kept me from having to dissolve turmoil later in the day. I got what I wanted first and then the kids got a reward as well. Time spent doing something with them forged the way for them to play on their own later. For a foster child who struggled with sitting still to do homework, I purchased the largest nut and bolt set I could find and left it on the table. When he became frustrated, he’d pick up the nut and ride the bolt up and down the six-inch nut. His frustration lessened as he worked that bolt. (Yes, if I had not been there to see it, I wouldn’t have believed it, either.)  A few weeks later, a visitor in our home picked up the set and asked what this large nut and bolt was for. He replied, “It’s to help me calm down when I am upset.” I had said nary a word about the purpose of this bolt.

The lesson I learned about maintaining the thermostat helped me years later when a co-worker seemed to set the tempo for the place I was working. I realized one morning that I waited to see what kind of mood she was in before I figured out what kind of day I was going to have. How ridiculous, I told myself.

I made some changes in my attitude and made certain my mood was set before I went to work. It made a difference in my work place as well. That’s because I decided her dour mood would not dampen my spirit. I set up my own parameters for what I would allow to shape my mood, and ended up enjoying going to work more even when this co-worker was in a foul mood.

When we “allow” our children or others to set our tone, we become the victim instead of the parent or the adult. It does not have to be this way. We can choose to be proactive or reactive. We can choose to be the thermostat instead of the thermometer. It takes a conscious effort and choice to do this, but in time, it becomes easier. Sometimes we might slip back into the thermometer mode, but each time, it will be easier to realize what is happening so we can adjust our thinking and our perspective. Everybody will be happier, for sure.


Whatever happened to the child who caused me to become proactive instead of reactive?

He has his own business now and continues his bent of creativity. Maybe if I had known . . .  I would have been more patient with the blocks I found stuck in the heater that were starting to burn, or the toy cows in the oven that I forgot to check before I set it on broil.

noun: thermometer; plural noun: thermometers  1.  an instrument for measuring and indicating temperature
noun   1.  a device that automatically regulates temperature, or that activates a device when the temperature reaches a certain point.
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