Thursday, September 18, 2014
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Breaking the "cranky kid" cycle

Do cranky kids make cranky parents? The coming of Fall and the return to school can mark a time of relief for some parents - less time is spent thinking about what your child is going to do all day. But for others, this season provides a new (or all-too-familiar) host of stresses.

Breaking the “cranky kid” cycle

Paying attention to your own stress level and knowing when to disengage, rather than escalate an argument, is an important step in preserving your rightful role as beneficent dictator in the household hierarchy. (AP Photo)
Paying attention to your own stress level and knowing when to disengage, rather than escalate an argument, is an important step in preserving your rightful role as beneficent dictator in the household hierarchy. (AP Photo) AP Photo

by Matthew Prowler, M.D.

Do cranky kids make cranky parents? The coming of fall and the return to school can mark a time of relief for some parents – less time is spent thinking about what your child is going to do all day. But for others, this season provides a new (or all-too-familiar) host of stresses. Getting your child up and dressed, fed, out the door, and to sleep on-time can be anywhere from an annoying challenge to an all-out daily battle. 

Does your child argue with you constantly, throw temper tantrums or actively defy you on a regular basis?

If so, you and your child are not alone. Studies estimate that 10 percent of children display these behaviors, which, when seen together, are characterized as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or ODD.

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But the diagnosis itself is not so helpful when your child is freaking out every day. So what can you do to help - without become a cranky parent yourself and unwittingly fueling the behavior you’re trying so hard to fix?

  • Pay attention to context. When does this behavior occur and what are the specific triggers for your child? For example, does it happen only at home, or only when his sibling is around? Many children have particular difficulty at times of transition, such as getting out the door to school or moving from one activity to another. The child may have a rigid or inflexible way of thinking and need help anticipating a changing routine.
  • Control your own emotions. Despite their best intentions, parents often get upset and emotional with their school-age children and start arguing, yelling, or fighting themselves. At this point, you have lost your parental authority.  Paying attention to your own stress level and knowing when to disengage, rather than escalate an argument, is an important step in preserving your rightful role as beneficent dictator in the household hierarchy.
  • Pick your battles. Some battles are worth having, even if you know they are going to be bad.  Some are better left alone. Starting to separate these out is crucial. Two helpful books to aid parents in this are 1, 2, 3 Magic by Thomas Phelan, Ph.D. and The Explosive Child by Ross Greene, PhD. 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Getting input from others, such as your son or daughter’s teachers, can be helpful in understanding your child’s behavioral patterns. And if you have changed your parenting style and your child or your relationship is not improving, it could be worth visiting a mental health professional, such as a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. Extremely violent behavior or mood, anxiety or inattention symptoms are red flags that something else may be going on and further evaluation is warranted.

 Matthew Prowler, M.D., is a child and adolescent psychiatrist in private practice in Bryn Mawr, Pa.

About this blog
The Healthy Kids blog is your window into the latest news, research and advice around children's health. Learn more about our growing list of contributors here.

If you have questions about your child's health, ask them here.

Anna Nguyen Healthy Kids blog Editor
Stephen Aronoff, M.D., M.B.A. Temple University Hospital
Peter Bidey, D.O. Medical Director of Family Medicine at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Christopher C. Chang, M.D., Ph.D Jefferson Medical College
Mario Cruz, M.D. St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, Drexel University College of Medicine
Katherine K. Dahlsgaard, Ph.D. Lead Psychologist - The Anxiety Behaviors Clinic, CHOP
Gary A. Emmett, M.D. Director of Hospital Pediatrics at TJU Hospital & Pediatrics Professor at Thomas Jefferson Univ.
Lauren Falini Bariatric exercise physiologist, Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children
Hazel Guinto-Ocampo, M.D. Nemours duPont Pediatrics/Bryn Mawr Hospital
Rima Himelstein, M.D. Crozer-Keystone Health System
Jessica Kendorski, PhD, NCSP, BCBA-D Associate Professor in School Psychology/Applied Behavior Analysis at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Anita Kulick President & CEO, Educating Communities for Parenting
Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA VP for Programs & Research for Prevent Child Abuse America
Beth Wallace Smith, R.D. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
W. Douglas Tynan, Ph.D. Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Jefferson Medical Colg
Flaura Koplin Winston, M.D., Ph.D Scientific Director of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention
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