So the story goes that every afternoon when I came home from Grade One I would engage in a period of weeping and moaning before being able to move on to my evening. My parents were concerned and asked my teacher how I was getting on at school. She could only reply that I was a complete angel. A bit quiet, but always did what I was asked, worked hard and was kind to others.

Thankfully my mother had enough experience to see what was happening. It wasn’t that I hated school, or that something was happening there that my teacher hadn’t picked up on. I was simply putting so much effort and energy into being ‘good’ all day at school that, once I entered the comfort of my own home and saw those I loved most, I had to let out any frustration I’d experienced during the day . . . in a flurry of hot tears. And who got the privilege of sopping up those tears and helping me move forward? That’s right: Mom and Dad.

Don't bug me.

What it looks like: Child reserves severest grumpiness for close family, usually mom and/or dad. May seem entirely pleasant out and about or with other adults but when alone with mom/dad the grumpies seriously set in.

Mistaken for: Illness, teething, upset with circumstances, tired. Certainly these are all possibilities that should be explored but if they all come up negative perhaps we need not conclude that the child simply doesn’t like mom and dad or is trying to be cruel to them.

What child is learning: She is learning how and where it is appropriate to express her deepest emotions. Children are often extremely aware of their surroundings. I’m sure you’ve noticed that a child’s grumpiness can disappear the instant she enters a bustling play space. Adults do the same thing by turning on the smile at work. Sure, you may have had a bad night’s sleep and be fighting the beginnings of a cold but you don’t share that with everyone you meet. If a child doesn’t feel comfortable expressing deep emotions in her current environment, she may end up holding any frustrations inside until she gets to a place where she feels more comfortable being herself. And what’s the most emotionally safe place for children? You guessed it…with Mom and Dad.

How to support: Don’t take it personally. In fact, take it as a compliment. When you’re on the receiving end of grumpies that your child has saved just for you, remind yourself that it’s precisely because of your love and care that she’s able to express these feelings to you at all. Every child needs someone to absorb their most overwhelming and unpleasant emotions. To stay with them and weather the storm. To be there when they get to the other side and not think any less of them.

Don’t feel that you must always distract your child from her misery. She may just be looking for acknowledgement and sympathy. Describe what is happening and why. You’re crying a lot because you don’t feel well. Aim to acknowledge her valid emotions. I know it must be hard to have to sit in the car when you’re feeling so unwell. Don’t expect a change in behaviour but recognize and appreciate it if one happens. You’ve played by yourself even though you still don’t feel well. Thank you. That was really helpful to me.

I know it’s hard to think of grumpiness as a compliment but maybe if we can see it that way, no matter who it’s coming from, perhaps we can all weather the storms a bit more dignity and hope.