Listless and cranky. Bubbly one minute and barking the next. Impossible to predict. A challenge to train and guide.
There could be thousands of reasons why children behave in these ways on any given day. And believe me, I’d be the first to comfort someone if they were struggling and exhibiting these traits for a good reason.
But what if this is becoming a pattern? And what if it is really annoying and hard to train? And what if I’ve tried to parent the child through their bad attitude and it isn’t letting up? What’s feeding this behavior?
These two frustrating behaviors could be the fruit of loneliness.
First, laziness is a lack of motivation, an unwillingness to make an effort.
Laziness can be a result of too many hurts. A child is naturally bent toward doing. They feel their “being” and express it with actions. It’s the reason why toddlers are often labelled “busy.” I’ve never observed a lazy 2-year-old. They are busy, and they do a lot. Until they are stopped. Or hurt. And this is when pain teaches children (and adults too) that their being isn’t good enough.
The kind of behavior that shows me a child has given up is when they are no longer motivated by rewards or positive reinforcements. It isn’t the same as being bored.
At the root of laziness is a confusion of identity.
Every child needs to be able to anchor their feelings to their identity. So that at the end of any given day, they know who they are, who they belong to, and why that matters. Before they know that their doing matters they need to know that their being matters. Feelings must be interpreted through identity. Our culture allows us to define our identity by our feelings, and this leads to an unstable emotional and physical state. The push to define their being by their doing doesn’t satisfy.
Talking through how a child feels about a situation or action isn’t enough. They need to know what to do with their feelings. Is it valid for them to be feeling that way or not? Identity isn’t bossy. Feelings are. Kids need help to know what their anchor is and how to process their feelings based on that anchor.
A child’s identity needs to start with a solid family identity. For our family, we’ve chosen to teach our kids a “team view” of family identity. I remind them often that we are on the same team, we are doing the task together, and we enjoy the benefits of belonging because of the team view. We review our priorities often so that they know why our family has chosen to live a certain way and what those benefits are.
Second, moodiness is unpredictable and intense. Cheerful and excited one minute and angry and grumpy the next.
A child like this may have an issue with excitement. The thrill of being around other people followed by the disappointment of it coming to an end. This pattern of moodiness is relatively easy to talk a child through.
But when it’s ongoing, I think it is a mild sign of loneliness. The reason why I think moodiness comes out of lonely kids is because they do not have enough support and companionship. Or they can’t articulate their need for support in a specific area of their personal growth.
When kids are moody with their family it can be a sign that they are refusing the type of support and companionship offered at home. And there may need to be some examination of whether the child is being supported there.
Like the child who is aggressively excited for social engagements, being more social doesn’t cure moodiness in a lonely child.
Often when a child is exhibiting moody behavior to mom and dad, they need to be given more attention not less. Think of this as feedback and not as a separate behavior. Address the activity or engagement that is causing their response and help them process that. They may need to be validated that their experience was difficult or challenging. They may need affirmation that they still have a companion in you. They may need help to see themselves in a different light.
Supporting them through their feedback behavior looks like condoning it or ignoring it, but working on the root issue, helping them process their feelings, helps them know their identity. Once they are settled and their behavior becomes more steady, that’s when I gently address the behavior that was moody and off balance.
I’ve heard it preached that parents need to address behaviors immediately with children, but it is actually counterproductive. Kids have strong memories. They are able to think back one, two, or even three whole days to their behavior. It is wise to give space and time for the root work to take effect before addressing feedback behavior.
This is the upside down logic of parenting. I don’t parent what I’m seeing now. I’m working on what’s deeper to create healthier soil for fruit and relationships with others to grow.