It was a innocent mistake. She was having too much fun playing with her cousin and then *crash* the water glass full of chocolate milk tipped over and went all over her dinner… and her daddy.
Her adorable tutu skirt had gotten wet, but the milk had soaked through Ben’s suit. He was not pleased.
She froze, and then immediately tried to hide her face as everyone looked on. She was embarrassed, scared, full of regret and doing everything she could not to start bawling at the wedding. I quickly pulled her away to give her some space, and also to clean her up. I wanted to give her a safe space to cry–something I’m not super familiar with, as I grew up trying hard not to cry much myself–but she kept working to hold it in despite my encouragement to let her feelings out.
Finally, she said she wanted to go home, so I started walking her back to the table. We were passing the photo booth on the way over and she seemed interested, yet not quite in the mood. I wasn’t going to push it. But later, her cousin went over to take pictures, and she wanted to join in. Sort of. But not really. But really, she did. But she was still sad.
We decided to wait in line to see if her mood would improve, but she continued to hold a long face and wouldn’t make eye contact with anybody. They say the best way to get a kid out of a mood like this is to distract them. I tried to joke with her. Then I tried telling her a story. She just turned her face away from me. I tried to reason with her (hah!). Then I tried a little trick that worked really well just earlier that week, with a different group of young kids:
“Hmm… well, let’s get ready for pictures, girls!” I called out. The girls looked at me curiously.
“Puttttttttt your fingerrrrrr onnnnnnnnn youuuuuuuuuurrrrr… NOSE!” I cried out, while proudly sticking my finger on my forehead.
“HEYYYYY,” they giggled, “THAT’S NOT YOUR NOSE!!”
“Yes! I said NOSE! See, this is my NO–waiiiiiiit a second!” I cried, in mock disbelief, “I meant… my… NOSE!” I said, pocking my chin.
“NOOOOO!!” they shouted out gleefully, “THAT’S YOUR CHIN!!!”
“Ohhhh. Right, right. Here is my nose!” I continued, finally placing my finger on the right spot. “Now, stiiiiick your finnnnngerrr onnnn…”
They waited, giggling in anticipation.
“Onnn… yourrr…. EAR!” I called out, stabbing my closed eye with my finger.
“MOOOMMMMMMYYYY THAT’S YOUR EYE!!” my daughter cackled.
“No, of course not! It’s my EAR–WAIIIIITT a second!!” I said, confusedly, “That ISSSS my eye!!”
Well, you get the idea. I did it a couple more times and then moved on to jumping with your hands in the air. For some reason, kids can’t seem to jump without smiling, so it was an easy way to segue from a lifted mood to sheer happiness as we moved forward in the photobooth line. By the time it was our turn, the girls were both all smiles and ready to ham it up for the camera.
It’s a trick I use all the time. The week before, I was asked to substitute for a group of five and six year old kids. When I could feel myself losing their attention, I started doing this little trick and it was a quick, fun, and easy way to grab the attention of even the most antsy child. They giggled, they laughed, and we got a little bit of our wiggles out. It works best with kids who already know their body parts who also are starting to understand jokes. I’d say ages 3-6. If the kids really like you, you might even be able to pull it off with slightly older kids! Have fun and try it out sometime!
How about you? What’s in your bag of tricks for nudging a child from moodiness to smiles? I am always looking for fresh ideas!