Kids seem to know when a parent is most overloaded–and that’s when they act up the worst! I swear they have radar for this. If yours are like mine, they even have a pact to take turns being “the bad and annoying one.” One will be super obnoxious until I’m about ready to kill and eat her, while the other plays the angel. Then suddenly, they switch; the angel becomes the devil and vice versa. The better to wear me down.
Unfortunately, kids pick up on parental energy and tone, amplifying and acting it out. So, they are being their worst at precisely the time we need them to behave at their best. This is one of the things that truly sucks about parenting, and I say this out of experience.
The subtex of the kids’ behavior is pretty much always that they need love and assurance. When mine are acting up–even now, supposedly as “adults”–I try to remember that people (and I mean all people, not just kids) need love the most when they act the least lovable. This has been a tough concept for me to grasp, much less, integrate into my SOP. However, it has repeatedly proven accurate, and I now know it is virtually 100% true.
When my kids were younger and both of them were out of whack, I would find even small ways to slow things down for all of us, if just a little here and there. Maybe they would skip an activity or two and I would heat up left overs instead of planning- shopping for- and preparing a meal. I would make sure to spend extra time with them, get them outdoors, or at least, moving. I would instigate spontaneous fun, start up some kitchen science experiments, or let them play with sand and water.
Their response to these acts was most often positive, and soon they were back on a more even keel. Though it took a little extra thought- and sometimes effort, “loving them the most” always helped everybody feel better.