So much of your child’s disposition has to do with his last night’s sleep or whether he’s taken a nap. This is really no different for adults as well. Your quality of sleep has a lot to do with how you’re feeling. How you handle your child’s ill tempered disposition because of sleep deprivation, or whatever other cause, is the challenge that will define your parenting skills as pro or amateur.
As soon as I get home from work and my 4 1/2 year old boy and 2 1/2 year old girl rush up to see me and hug me, I can see in their eyes whether they’ve had a nap or not. Generally if there has been no nap, it’s entirely apparent in their eyes and quickly becomes apparent in their disposition. Without a nap, kids are much more likely to be standoffish at the simplest of questions or a request for a hug. When you place a plate of food in front of them and they swipe at it and say they don’t want it and are difficult to deal with, it’s often because there was no nap that day.
My 2 1/2 year old usually takes a nap every day. But my 4 1/2 year old is at an age where it’s hit or miss when you lay him down for a mid-day nap. On the days that he does take a nap, the evening hours go so much better. The boy is at that transitional age where mom and I are phasing out his nap.
This week, I had the kids solo from after work until bed time for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday as my wife was preparing for her new job. On Monday, there was no nap for either child. Dinner was difficult. Swiping food off the high chair was one thing I had to endure. Crying and saying I don’t want it when you’ve cooked a wonderful meal of chicken, cut fruit, chocolate milk, and rice was another thing. I attribute this behavior to poor sleep that day. There is definitely a direct correlation. Because I was tired too, all I wanted to do is clean up after dinner and relax and watch some TV while the kids played. But, it never works out that way.
I found myself getting upset because the kids just wouldn’t play nice while I cleaned up the kitchen after dinner. They would not sit in front of the TV without fighting while I cleaned up so I was constantly mediating arguments and taking a toy away from one child for not sharing and the like.
The big mistake I made is to not get the kids out of the house after dinner. I think you find yourself getting more upset because of the damage the kids can do in the house when they’re full of energy and sass. A deprivation of sleep doesn’t diminish a child’s energy necessarily, it just changes the attitude for the worse. Solution: get the kids out of the house and outside to play where damage is mitigated to things that aren’t as likely to get you mad too. A parent, like me or you, is much less likely to get upset when kids are being aggressive and destructive outside of the house as opposed to inside the house where they can break things. For example, if my son smashes his toy on the concrete sidewalk, I’m much more apt to tell him that’s too bad that your toy is broken and explain the lesson to him. By contrast, if my son were to smash his toy against my big screen hi-def LCD TV, I’m much more likely to lose my cool and have a much more severe punishment for really what should be the same lesson. To make matters worse, if I’m very upset about my TV getting smashed, the lesson is actually going to be lost on the child because he cannot understand the difference between a $5 toy and a $1,500 television. If you are upset enough, the child will only see your anger and develop a fear of upsetting the person he loves the most and have a lesson that’s completely counter productive to fostering a good parent/child relationship.
You have to remember child psychology is not adult psychology. If you lose your cool, you lose the opportunity to teach the lesson and have the added negative effect of your child thinking that daddy is mad at me. It’s very bad situation. The point is to get your kids out of the house where they don’t have as easy an opportunity to do something bad enough to ruin the night for both you and them.
All because of what? Deprivation of sleep. That’s where it all starts. It’s up to you to modify the landscape of the situation so it’s much more unlikely problems will escalate past the opportunity to teach.
Furthermore, getting the kids outside will give them the opportunity to run and exhaust energy so that when it is time for bed they will sleep better too. Now, I cannot guarantee that bath and bed might still not be difficult because the kids are exhausted, but you always have to remember that child psychology is much different from adult psychology. The biggest mistake dads can make is to try using adult tactics on a child. Children do not think the same way adults do. Don’t make them pay because you have not learned this. I conjecture that a childhood lived with a parent that has consistently damaged that child’s psyche will make for a distant relationship between father and child later in life.
One last thing: if it’s winter or outside is not an option because of some other situation, you should have some place where the kids can let off steam and not damage something that is going to get you upset. I know this might be difficult depending on the size of your house or apartment or whatever, but you decided to have children and you have to step up as a dad and give those children the opportunity to be kids without you always having to be the ‘bad guy’ when they do what their wired to do.