My 7-year-old is very grumpy and says no to everything

In trying to help your son, it is important to understand why he might be negative and grumpy at home

Lots of parents have the experience of a child who is grumpy and moody at home while being well-behaved and amiable when out with others.

Lots of parents have the experience of a child who is grumpy and moody at home while being well-behaved and amiable when out with others.

 

Question: My son is seven years old, and he can be a very caring and loving child. Teachers and friends all comment on his personality and how thoughtful and gentle he is and he is always well-behaved when he is out with others. But at home we see another side to him that makes me worry about him. His attitude to most things at home particularly is very negative and grumpy. When I suggest we go somewhere, or visit friends for example, his reaction is always an immediate “no!”

Almost everything is met with a no and we have to coax and jolly him along to do most things, which is getting so wearing and exhausting. This means any family trips start with him being really grumpy and negative and a long period of trying to get him out the door. It can start things off badly for the day and we can end up rowing with him.

Generally, when we get wherever we are going, he is more positive and seems to enjoy it all, so I don’t know what is the matter with him.

 

Answer: Lots of parents have the experience of a child who is grumpy and moody at home while being well-behaved and amiable when out with others – hence the popular term “street angel, home devil”. In trying to help your son, it is important to understand why he might be negative and grumpy at home. Why do you think he immediately says no when you suggest going out on a family visit etc? For example, it could be linked to his sensitive nature, in that he might find navigating social relationships hard or stressful.

Lots of children have a little bit of social anxiety at the prospect of going out and meeting people. Sometimes children get stressed when out in school, but only show it at home in displays of grumpy or bad behaviour. It could also be that he is a bit of a home bird, and does not like going out or changes to routine. Have you noticed any patterns to his grumpy behaviour or other ideas on what triggers him?

Help your son talk about his feelings

Try to help your son communicate when he is in a grumpy mood. Encourage him to “use his words” rather than displaying angry behaviours (eg shouting, throwing things etc). The ideal is for him to tell you what is on his mind or what he is worried about. As he is young, it can help if you anticipate or name his feelings – “I know you are a little nervous going out – you will be fine when we get going. Just remember you always enjoy things when we get there.”

Try to ignore his grumpiness

His grumpy moods only are disruptive if you let them get to you. The more you can ignore them or not let them bother you the easier it will be for you. This might mean you come up with a plan for managing these moods, which might mean you pull back for a minute or just get on with things without paying him too much attention. It can help to explain these strategies to others in the family: “Oh just give J some space, he is in one of his moods – he will be fine in a minute.” Coming up with a step-by-step plan on how you can manage his moods (without getting annoyed yourself) will help you cope better.

Notice what gets him out of his moods

You say he is fine once he gets going but have you noticed in particular what gets him out of a grumpy mood? How does his mood change and what can you do to help? Some children just need a bit of space to manage while others require a little bit of support from their parents. For example, for some children giving them a bit of a hug can help and saying, “You sound upset – come on over here for a big hug.”

Hold him to account for his moods

It is also important to hold him to account for his moods. Explain to him, “When you whine and moan it can upset everyone – let’s see you be a bit more jolly” or “I know you are upset, but you can’t give out to everyone about it”. Using some consequences and warnings can help motivate him to behave well. For example, you might remind him: “You will only be able to have your toy back when you get ready to go out.”

Plan in advance

It can also help to plan advance tricky situations where he might be grumpy. For example, if you know that visiting relatives on Friday is usually difficult, then sit down with him in advance and plan this identifying some rewards and positives: “We are going to see Granny on Friday and if you get ready quickly in a happy smiley way, you will be able to read your new magazine in the car.”

You could also set up a detailed reward chart which breaks down the steps of a tricky situation allowing him to get a “smiley face” sticker each time he completes a step in a jolly or happy way. You can give him a bonus reward of a small toy once he gets so many smiley faces. Reward charts like this can take the negativity out of a situation and give you a set of strategies to coach him to manage his emotions positively.

 – John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology. He has published 14 books including Positive Parenting: Bringing up responsible, well-behaved and happy children. He will be delivering a number of parenting workshops in Dublin and Cork this autumn. See solutiontalk.ie for details.

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