Parent's Mood Impacts Child's Mood - Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

Is it possible that my three-year-old can read my mind?

It seems that when I’m content and carefree he’s in his best mood, too. When I’m stressed out he’s more stubborn and irritable and takes that much longer to pull in whatever direction I want him to go including getting to sleep at night.

Mom of a Mirror

Dear Mom of a Mirror,

It is very true that a young child generally picks up and responds to the mood of his caregiver. After all, her mood will determine much about what his immediate experience with her will be like. An apt analogy is checking the weather report.

Warm and Calm
Mom’s face is relaxed and smiling. Her voice is soft and lilting. This predicts a very pleasant time is at hand.

Blustery
Mom’s face has tense muscles around the eyes and mouth. The voice is harsh and deeper than normal. A storm is likely!

The Doldrums
Mom’s head and shoulders droop and her face is likewise sagging. Her voice is slow and flat. No fun in store today.

When you think about how dependent your child is on you it’s no wonder that he reacts to your mood as if it were responsible for the very atmosphere in which he finds himself. Consider this evidence of the powerful influence you have on him, and endeavor to make the most of it!

Preschool teachers talk about how differently a child acts when his parent is present. A parent’s mood at pick up time can instantly change the child’s mood, for better or for worse. For example, when a parent is obviously in a rush, the child gets an alarmed look on his or her face. It takes more effort for the parent to get him in gear to pack up and leave. When a parent comes in looking exhausted (the one carrying an infant, for example), the child gets a sad look and, at best, uses his slowest gear to comply with leaving. A parent who comes in all cheery with an upbeat greeting gets an excited face in return, followed by the child running up for a hug.

If you are feeling exhausted, frustrated, stressed out, or just down in the dumps, you can’t do your best as a parent. This is why it is so important to take care of yourself. Run down this checklist to see where improvements can be made: regular exercise, good nutrition, adequate rest, supportive friends and family members, and a reasonable load of responsibilities including outlets for creativity and opportunities to feel valued and successful. An off day now and then is normal and easily “weathered” by a young child. However ongoing agitation or depression in a parent can impact a child’s sense of security, create aggressive behaviors, and or impair his interest in learning.

Imagine looking through your child’s eyes to judge your mood from your face, voice, and posture. Then do what you can to enhance the forecast he is reading in you. Start with whichever item on the self-care checklist seems to be the easiest to fix. It may take a little time and effort, but you should find that once you get a better handle on one of your self-care shortcomings it’s a lot easier to bring the others up as well.

 Dr. Debbie

 

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