How to Help a Child After a Bad Day

As soon as I walk in the door after work…

I can immediately tell if Toby or Anton had a rough day. They’ll walk up, say “Mommmmmmmy” and slump onto me. Their stressed little faces break my heart, and for years, my first instinct was to try to make it better.

Problem with a friend? It will be fine tomorrow, I’m sure! Tough time on a test? You’ll figure it out! Teacher gave you a time out? You’re still a great kid!

But now, over time, I’ve realized what the boys really want: for me just to be there.

I recently read a great article in the Washington Post, and here’s what it said:

“Parents are taking so much responsibility for their children’s mood and spirit that it feels like it’s your job to reset as soon as possible,” says Wendy Mogel, clinical psychologist and the author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Raising Self-Reliant Children. “It deprives them of the opportunity to be crabby and cross when they finish school or at the end of a day of camp.”

Part of the reason kids may be upset when they get home is that home is “the soft landing,” Mogel says. It’s the place they feel comfortable enough to get it all out. “They followed all those rules all day. They were polite to all the teachers. It’s exhausting”…

She suggests parents practice “reflective listening.” So, for instance, a child comes home and is frustrated after a tough day in math class. The parent then says, “Wow, it sounds like math was really overwhelming today.” Then the child says something else, and the parent reflects their feelings back to them. “Each time they feel heard, it brings the emotion down and they can see it for what it is,” she says.

Doesn’t that ring true? Now if the boys are upset after a long day, I let them vent in a calm space. I’ll repeat back their emotions and validate their feelings. And I’ve been surprised by how well that simple approach has worked. After getting things off their chest, they almost always feel better and go off to play with their toys or read a book or (true to form) beg for more dessert.

Thoughts? What do you do when your child has a bad day? What do you crave for yourself at the end of a long one?

P.S. Home as a haven, and how to get your kids to talk at dinner. Also, remember this dad’s playful way to turn a bad day around?

(Photo by Lena Corwin.)