5 to 6: The Moody Blues
One minute hot, one minute cold. Kindergartners can have exaggerated mood swings this time of year.
When it comes to mood swings, you might think adolescents have the market cornered. But kindergartners are also susceptible to strong emotions that seem to come out of thin air. You may have noticed your normally happy and balanced child lately seems to be showing signs of being on an emotional roller coaster. What’s going on?
Five- and six-year-olds often experience mood swings at the beginning of kindergarten. This period usually lasts just a few months, but it can be intense while it’s happening. Understanding the triggers and how to deal can help.
Mood swings related to physical needs are often the easiest to deal with. Some kindergarten teachers find that hunger is a big issue early in the year. This may be because kids are away from home for a longer day or are getting up earlier to ride a bus to school. But it can also be because of the added energy children need to succeed with the increased academic expectations. Many teachers set up a “self-service” snack area in the room or encourage parents to send in an approved snack that your child can have when hunger hits.
Your child’s perception of her acceptance by others can also affect mood swings. For example, she may love a game until she starts to “lose” or feels unappreciated. Then she may become sullen and belligerent. What was once a “great” game is now “stupid.” She might not want to play anymore. Helping your child feel successful and accepted no matter who wins the game is essential. Most 5- and 6-year-olds are able to verbalize how they feel. But they’re still not very good at expressing—or admitting—what they need to take care of how they feel. How many times has your child said he is tired but refused a rest or to go to bed? The tricky part for a 5- or 6-year-old is knowing how to recognize and express both his feelings and his needs. With patience, awareness, and good modeling, you can help your child deal with these emotional mood swings and express his needs to help balance them out.
• Model expressing your feelings and your needs. Say when you feel tired or angry and then say what you need. For example: “I feel tired; I need to go read a book for a while.”
• Start your child’s day with a good night’s sleep and a healthy breakfast. It’s key for a stable mood.
• Give your child space and time to handle his emotions. You’ve probably found that your own crankiness passes when you take some quiet time. The same thing works for your child.
Ellen Booth Church is a former professor of early childhood, a current educational consultant, keynote speaker, and author.