Adventures in Paris: Getting along with tired and grumpy kids

Kids (and grown-ups) get grumpy when tired.  Traveling is very tiring.  It follows that during your adventures away from home, you will likely experience tired, irritable, grumpy children.  We have experienced a lot of this lately ourselves, so I’ve spent some time thinking about how to help our family be happy while traveling together.  Here are a few things we’ve tried.

Fast asleep at the end of IMAX

Good sleep is the number one cure of all ills, in my opinion.  Everyone feels better when rested.  However, feeling well-rested is tricky when you are away from home, in a different time zone, sleeping in an unfamiliar bed, and going all day to pack in all the fun.  Do your best to get some sleep, and allow your children to sleep in their beds!  Take the kids “home” for a nap if you can, at least every other day.  If we know we’re going to have a late night, I make all the boys take an afternoon nap, or at least have some quiet time, and I take a nap too.  Sleep is the best medicine, although I know it can be hard to come by when you’re traveling with children.

We’ve found that it helps to sit down with the kids each morning and outline our day.  Over breakfast is a great time to do this.  We call it our family meeting.  Sometimes we have family meetings in the evening.  We ask each boy if they have anything they want to bring up, and they often do.  Giving the kids an idea of what to expect that day, managing expectations, and having time to talk through objections (“But I don’t want to go to another museum today!”) seems to help things go more smoothly once we’re out the door.

In my experience, being silly with children always works better than yelling, spanking, and time-outs.  Unfortunately, yelling, threatening, or sending the boys straight to their rooms is almost always my first reaction to conflict.  I have to check myself and dig deep to find my calm, cheerful, silly mom, especially when I’m tired.  But I’ve found that when I can manage it, kind mommy always produces a happier family in the end than angry mommy.  Here are a few specific ideas:

  • Search for your happy self.  When a child is acting grumpy and contrary, go on a search for their happy selves.  This works best for younger children (our 3-year-old loves it), but I use it with the bigger boys as well.  I’ll say, “Oh my goodness!  It sounds like happy Peter got lost today!  Where could he have gone?”  I’ll then search around the house (or the park or the car or the museum) looking for happy Peter until we find him.  Our little Peter loves this game and it will often (not always) cheer him up.
  • Hug it out.  I think that all children respond well to physical affection.  Where there is a lot of bickering going on, I’ll sometimes stop and give each of the boys a big, long squeeze.  They’ll be stiff and resistant at first, but eventually hug back.  I’ll tell them that I love them, and then tell them each a few things that I especially love and appreciate about them.  This always makes me feel better (reminds me that I do love my kids) and helps them feel better too.
  • Say nice things to each other.  We use this one a lot.  When we catch the boys arguing or saying unkind things to each other, I make them stop and each say three nice things about the other person.  They have to be real substantial compliments, not “I like you, I love you, you’re nice,” as they often try to get away with.
  • Throw the grumpy out the window.  This is another silly game that is good to break the tension of an argument.  I’ll say something like, “Hey!  We’ve got a lot of grumpy around here.  Let’s all find all of our grumpiness and throw it out the window!”  We’ll then search under our shirts, in our ears, in our socks, etc., find all the grumpiness, wad it up into a ball and throw it out the window (if you’re near a window) or just throw it away if you’re not.
  • Plan a special treat (bribery).  I often bribe my children.  I like to think of it as positive reinforcement for good behavior, but I think that might be splitting hairs.  If we’re all having a rough time, we might sit the boys down for a minute or call them over to stand in a little group and have a family pow-wow.  “Let’s choose to be positive,” we’ll say.  “If we can be nice and happy for the rest of [whatever excursion we’re on], we’ll get some ice cream on the way home.”

Keep in mind that my children are young, so these ideas have only been tested on younger children.  Still, no matter the age of your children, I feel sure that mildness and kindness will always produce a better result than anger and yelling.  I know (believe me, I know) that we all yell at our kids sometimes (that’s why I can compare the results), but yelling doesn’t cheer anyone up, doesn’t make anyone feel like being nicer, doesn’t bring out the best in anyone.  It is so hard to be cheerful with whining, bickering children!!  I don’t feel very qualified to write this post today, but these are some of the things that I try to do.  Good luck!

Charlie tantrum--right there at the Children's Museum


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  1. […] with periods of less sleep, and while it may take some adjustment to get back on schedule—or to lose that grumpiness—it will happen, and you can still find success in your […]

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