4 Simple Ways to Help Improve Your Kid’s Mood

We all get grumpy sometimes. Luckily, it doesn’t have to last long. Especially if you employ some proven remedies.

Our house is sometimes visited by a mystical creature we lovingly call “Mr. Grumpy Pants.” Mr. Grumpy Pants is not an easy guest to entertain, sometimes the slightest inconvenience can derail his whole day.

A new cereal at breakfast might make him pout, or his brother might just annoy him. In any case, we don’t like Mr. Grumpy Pants to stay for very long. I’m sure Mr. (or Ms.) Grumpy Pants pays visits to other houses too, right?

In an effort to quell the grumps and restore happiness to our house, we often employ these four research-backed activities.

1 | Outside play

When my youngest son was three months old, he was diagnosed with severe gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Even though his medicine gave him great relief, he often had episodes so painful that his medicine couldn’t make him fully comfortable. In a desperate attempt to find something to distract him, my husband took him outside one day during an awful screaming session.

As if by magic, he calmed down as my husband rocked him under the shade of an ash tree. My little boy, with tears still clinging to his cheeks, reached out to touch a leaf. We now call the tree “therapy tree.” The outdoors didn’t heal his GERD, but it was calming enough to distract him and sooth his mood, and research shows this to be true. 

Most parents know that time spent outdoors is beneficial for children on a physical level. Running, skipping, and playing sports keeps children’s bodies lean and healthy, but the great outdoors can also boost emotional and mental health.

The National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play illustrates this point: “Kids who play outside are happier, healthier, and stronger!” Outdoor play directly affects children’s moods by lowering stress levels.

Happier kids tend to be more well-behaved kids. Not to mention, after a full day of hard and fun play, bedtime comes much more easily to children. Win, win!

2 | Quality snacks

I am officially that mom who always has random snacks in my purse: granola bars, little baggies of this, a small Tupperware of that. I’ve even been known to have a box of chocolate milk in my purse.

I’ve witnessed too many hunger-induced tantrums to leave the house without snacks. Little bodies are constantly moving and growing. They need to eat and snack to sustain their famed energy levels. The choice of snack, however, is what can make or break that good behavior we so desperately want to see.

A 2007 study states: “Artificial colors or a sodium benzoate preservative (or both) in the diet result in increased hyperactivity in three-year-old and eight-/nine-year-old children in the general population.”

A quick read of the nutritional label might spare you from the extra tantrum!

3 | Cutting out technology before bed

When my younger son was born, our family fell into a new bedtime habit. Our older son would watch one of his favorite shows on the iPad while we put the baby to sleep. It kept him quiet and occupied so we could have the peace we needed for the baby. Except that this plan backfired.

When it became his turn for bed, he was nowhere near ready. He was amped up and began pleading for “one more show, one more, just one more.” We were in a pickle and this new habit had to stop.

My husband took over reading duties with our three-year-old, while I flew solo with the baby. This new routine was the golden ticket. Not only did my husband gain precious bonding time, but our son nearly always fell asleep by the end of the third book. No more tears, no more crying about shows. Just cuddles and Daddy’s gentle voice reading.

Once again, science can back up our anecdotal findings. The American Medical Association reminds us that light emitted from technology (e.g. the iPad that my son used) disrupts the beginning of the sleep process. This light emission most notably affects children. My son wasn’t able to fall asleep because the light was stimulating him and waking him up – not calming him down like I thought it was.

4 | Massage

This is my favorite way to improve the mood of my children. When I was pregnant, I read about infant massage and I thought it seemed like a decent idea, but it wasn’t until my oldest son was about two when I realized just how much he enjoyed it.

After a day spent barefoot at the pool, I massaged lotion into his feet to hydrate them. I saw his little body instantly relax and melt into the couch. Even though moments before he had been antsy, he was now mellow and content.

Flash forward to our next son. It’s movie night and Mommy and Daddy are trying to watch a movie, but the toddler is running and jumping and happily screaming. I don’t want to abandon movie night so I grab the bottle of lotion. Once again, the previously hyper boy is now a puddle in my lap, soaking up every moment of massage.

According to the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, massage for children is both a bonding activity and a stress reducer. Once again, children who are less stressed are happier. 

Not every bad mood can be wiped away with outdoor play, a snack, a good bedtime routine, or a massage but I have found that these four activities are my go-to’s when I see that Mr. Grumpy Pants is planning a visit.

That said, sometimes the best thing to do to boost a child’s mood is a hug, a kiss, and an “I love you.” 

How To Improve Your Child’s Mood With Colors

By considering the lessons of artists, interior decorators, and advertisers how can we as parents use the science of color to guide our children’s mood?

For thousands of years, color has been thought to have power over our emotions. Artists, interior decorators, fashion designers, and advertising agencies utilize the meaning of different colors to influence human behavior and attract customers. By considering the lessons of these experts, how can we as parents use the science of color to guide our children’s mood? Does the color we paint their rooms really affect how happy they feel or how soundly they sleep?

History of color psychology

Several ancient cultures, including the Egyptians and Chinese, used color for healing purposes as far back as 2,000 years ago. This type of therapy is called chromotherapy, light therapy, or colorology, and is still used today as a holistic or alternative treatment.

It is believed that color therapy uses the visible spectrum of light and color to change a person’s mood and their physical and mental health. Each color is part of a specific frequency and vibration that can affect certain energy, or chakras, in our body.

Practitioners also believe that certain colors entering the body can activate hormones causing chemical reactions that ultimately influence emotion and help the body heal. Red, for example, is used to stimulate the body and mind and to increase circulation. Orange heals the lungs and increases energy levels. Blue treats pain, while indigo cures skin problems. Finally, green relaxes patients who are emotionally unbalanced and yellow invigorates those suffering from depression.

How color impacts mood

Psychologists have found that color can influence how we feel and can even cause physiological changes in our body. Keep in mind, however, that there are different interpretations of color’s impact on emotions depending on culture and circumstance.

Research shows that certain colors can increase blood pressure, metabolism, and adrenaline. Other studies have found that certain colors can improve sleep habits, boost memory, and enhance academic performance. One study discovered that seeing the color red before taking a test can hurt performance. Students who were shown a red number before taking the test scored more than 20 percent lower than those shown a green or black number.

Just as color influences our mood, it can also be used to describe how we feel. A study reported in the journal BMC Medical Research indicated that people with depression or anxiety were more likely to associate their mood with the color gray, while happier people preferred yellow.

Researchers at the University of California determined that young children chose bright colors to represent positive feelings and dark colors for negative feelings. They were even able to identify how specific colors made the children feel: red is for mad, blue is for sad, yellow is for happy, and green is for glad. Color can therefore be a very helpful tool in accessing children’s emotions instead of relying on them to tell us how they feel.

Institutions like the American Red Cross, St. Jude’s Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital, and Scholastic incorporate this ability to connect feelings to colors as a way to better understand the emotions of young children. So if our children tell us they feel gray or blue, are seeing red, or feel green with envy, we will know what they are talking about can guide them through their emotions.

What each color means

Over time, studies have shown how different colors impact us in unique ways. Warm colors, such as red, yellow, and orange, stimulate emotions ranging from comfort and warmth to hostility and anger. Typically, warm colors make us feel happy and cozy. Bold shades of warm colors also help stimulate our mind and energize our body.

On the other hand, cool colors, like blue, green, and purple, relax us, but can also make us feel sad, especially if they are too dark. Despite their soothing nature, cool colors are not always welcoming and can leave people feeling removed and distant. Here’s a bit more about the impact and symbolism of colors:

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Red

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  • Excites and energizes the body, increases heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration
  • Creates alertness and excitement
  • Encourages creativity
  • Increases appetite
  • Can increase athletic ability, causing people to react with greater speed and force
  • Associated with increased aggression, an inability to focus, and headache
  • May be disturbing to anxious individuals

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Pink

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  • Evokes empathy and femininity
  • Creates a calming atmosphere
  • Can become irritating over time, leading to anxiety

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Yellow

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  • Associated with positive feelings of happiness and motivation
  • Encourages creativity
  • Soft, subtle yellows promote concentration
  • Bright shades stimulate the memory and increase metabolism
  • Too much can lead to anger and frustration

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Orange

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  • Friendly and welcoming
  • Increases alertness
  • Inspires interpersonal communication
  • Puts people at ease
  • Too much can be over-stimulating

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Blue

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  • Calms the mind and body, lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration
  • Minimizes feelings of anxiety and aggression
  • Creates a sense of well-being
  • Decreases appetite
  • Can even cool the body

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Purple

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  • Creates calmness
  • Encourages creativity
  • Light purple engenders peacefulness and relieves tension

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Green

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  • Symbolizes nature and promotes a serene and calming environment
  • Associated with health, healing, and well-being
  • Soothes the body and mind
  • Reduces anxiety
  • Promotes concentration

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Ways to use color in our children’s lives

Now that we know how specific colors affect our mood, what steps can we take to use color to help our children?

  • Use calming colors like blue and green in quiet areas to relax children. On hot days, dress them in blue to cool down body temperature and mood.
  • Children who have trouble sleeping or are prone to tantrums and other behavioral issues may benefit from spending time in a blue room.
  • If you want your children to sleep well, try using cool colors like blue, green, or purple. Their calming effect can make your child’s room feel spacious and relaxing, like the blue sky or the ocean.
  • Avoid painting your child’s room dark, cool colors because they can inspire gloomy, stormy day feelings.
  • Bright, warm colors may interfere with settling your child down for naps and bedtime. Save those colors for the playroom since they are known to enhance growth and development.
  • Use bright red, yellow, or orange dishes and placemats in the kitchen as these colors are associated with food and stimulate appetite. 
  • Surround your child with yellow during homework time to enhance attention and focus. Maybe a yellow t-shirt or smock becomes the go-to productivity costume. A yellow tablecloth or placemat at the homework station may help, and keep a yellow folder, pencils, and pencil case handy. If you have a small room dedicated to studying, then definitely paint it yellow!

In addition to these specific actions, spend time talking to your children about how different colors make them feel. Ask them if they agree with the research. As they get older, work with them to choose a new comforter or paint color for their bedroom. Pay attention to their artwork and the colors they use, then talk to them about why they chose specific colors and if it made them feel a certain way.

Ultimately, the more tools we have to effectively communicate with our children, the better off we’ll be. Have fun playing with color and exploring what works best for your family.

How to Be Happier in 10 Minutes or Less

By being proactive and aware of your own mind, you always carry tools that can lead you back to happiness.

You know that cascading surge of doom that we all experience from time to time, when you feel like your life is an overgrown disaster? Sometimes it can be pretty debilitating, depending on how long it lasts.

Well, I have some good news. That feeling we obliquely refer to as a “bad mood,” which sprouts from the tiniest seed of negativity, can be managed and diffused by you, in 10 minutes or less.

To outsmart a bad mood and feel happier, understand that emotions are not thrust upon us by circumstances. Our brains aren’t forced by outside events to produce particular feelings. Our neocortex, which is the center for higher mental functioning, responds to triggers in a way that best suits each situation. It decides how to react, inducing the limbic system. This system interfaces motivation and memory to fire synapses and release chemicals, creating what we identify as emotion.

But like any operating system designed for efficiency, the brain relies on past reactions to predict future ones. Sometimes, we don’t even consciously perceive an event before receptors in our mind are stimulated, sending impulses along previously forged pathways, like a mental default setting. Here’s the problem: If our default setting is fear, insecurity, irritability, or self-loathing, we spend much of our lives miserable.

But take heart, by interrupting the circuit and redirecting the reaction, we can quickly and effectively alter our mood.

The key to redirecting a foul mood is to be an active participant and not succumb to a routine of passivity. Sure, it’s easier to cruise along on grumpy auto-pilot, but each time you allow your reptilian brain to make the call, the conduits it chooses deepen.

Remember the proverb about thoughts becoming words, then actions, then habits, then character, and finally your destiny? The author is unknown, but whoever said it knew something about neuropathways. Fortunately, the adult brain retains synaptic plasticity. This means that the act of interrupting and reversing a cycle of negative emotions is habit-forming. And, there are countless ways to accomplish this.

Simply being aware of the process is a giant step in the right direction, but since humans tend to revisit the path of least resistance, passivity can be a tricky habit to eradicate. This is your disposition at stake. Don’t surrender without a fight. Instead, do these things in the next 10 minutes:

Drink a big glass of ice-cold water.

Drink it as fast as you can, even if it freezes your throat. The sudden change of temperature snaps your body to attention from the mild rush of adrenaline.

Name your bad mood.

I call mine, “I Hate to Clean.” My daughter has one named, “Recess is Mean.” This compartmentalizes the anxiety and isolates what’s really bothering you, instead of letting it seep indiscriminately across your mind.

Is your whole life awful, or do you just dread grocery shopping? Name it. Be specific about the nasty stuff and it won’t contaminate the good.

Do not use Facebook.

(I didn’t say forever, just 10 minutes.) When you scroll through social media, keep in mind that you are not so much a user as you are a commodity, tallied for ad revenue, and there is nothing more passive than that.

Go to a mirror and smile at yourself.

Smile until your reflection genuinely smiles back. Smiling — and being smiled at — triggers a release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter essential to the brain’s pleasure and motivation system.

Step outside and take several deep, rapid breaths.

This practice, called hyperpnoea, increases oxygen levels thus sharpening brain function and alertness. Jet fighters and other military personnel use this technique to maximize alertness.

Move.

Run up and down the stairs. Do deep knee bends, push-ups, jumping jacks, or high kicks. Dance, juggle, plank, etc. Just get your heart rate up. Evidence that exercise boosts your mood is abundant and widely accepted, with data showing changes in brain chemistry after as little as twenty seconds of active movement.   

Put five things away.

This is you being externally proactive. A cluttered environment contributes to anxiety and stress. While removing five objects may not put a dent in the mess, it’s a doable task for even the most overwhelmed.

Adjust your posture.

Most of us slump, slouch, and stoop when we’re grumpy, which underpins our attitude. Straighten your spine, pull your shoulders blades together, lift your chin, and don’t let your elbows come in front of your torso.

Physiologists have long maintained a connection between posture and temperament, noting a more developed skeletal musculature in people who describe themselves as “fortunate” and “cheerful.”

When the 10 minutes are up, you’ll feel better – even if it’s temporary — and you will always have the tools to redirect a bad mood. Stay proactive, be aware of your own mind, and remember that happiness can become habit forming.