Why Kids Are Always Crying and What To Do About It

You may have noticed that kids cry, uncontrollably, for no apparent reason, all the time. It’s one of the defining features of being a kid – totally losing it, just because. If your kid doesn’t exhibit these behaviors, there might be something wrong – you should consider seeing a psychiatrist.

At this point, my wife and I have stopped asking why, partly because we don’t have any spare brain cells for such a deep and perplexing question, and partly because we’ve realized that kids just aren’t adults, which is why we call them kids. They haven’t grown up yet, physically or emotionally, so they lack experience and reference points, making it impossible to distinguish between a life threatening emergency and something small and trivial. Because they’re emotionally tiny, every molehill is an emotional mountain.

In addition to lacking perception, kids are emotionally hyper-responsive and indecisive. In case you hadn’t noticed, they can swing from giddiness to despondency and back in a matter of minutes, even seconds. I think the clinical term is spazoid. They’re still calibrating their emotional reaction mechanism, which seems more like an on/off switch than the dimmer or a dial of a non-spazoid grown-up.

And now, finally, the point of this post – what we’re supposed to do about this emotional roller coaster. I think we have three options: 1) pull them off because they’re too short for the ride, 2) smile and wave from that spot where they let parents wait and take pictures, or 3) take the seat next to them.

The first option seems easiest, the second I’m not sure about, but the third seems best, especially as our kids transition from the merry-go-round to the Matterhorn. Our job is to support their emotional growth, teaching them to distinguish between mountains and molehills and adjust their emotional dial accordingly.

The problem is, this requires having a little-person perspective. As rational, logical adults, it’s hard to understand where our kids are coming from. We need to step into our toddler’s Stride Rites or baby Robeez. We need to get down on our hands and knees and see life from an infant’s viewpoint. Then, things might make more sense. We have to be the mole.

On a less positive note, I just remembered a third and more common reason kids cry – to make us crazy spazoids. It’s not an emotional roller coaster, it’s emotional warfare – their objective is to hijack our sanity and their strategy is a sensory assault. In this case, the second option above, smiling and waving, is probably best.

Indoor Homemade Baby Swing

I’ve written a few times about the kid difficulty function and how having more kids is like scaling up a business. We make fewer mistakes as parents, hopefully, in theory, as the number of kids increases.

Another result of scaling up is that the oldest becomes the experimental child, potentially with more psychological issues than the youngest, but also more resilience. By number four I’ve finally perfected the baby swing. This contraption has progressed from a chest harness hung from a door knob, with our first kid, to a three-dimensional spring-loaded recliner, with our fourth.

More kids demands more parenting ingenuity.

homemade baby swing          Homemade baby swing

Seizing the Day vs Investing in the Future

My little girlThis month marks the beginning of my last semester of graduate school. We’ve been here in Minnesota long enough to witness a road work project from start to completion, barely; long enough to have three babies, none of them twins; long enough to have lived in three different apartments, and to have a toddler grow up into a kindergartener. But, soon, hopefully, I will finish my PhD, at which point we will move on with our lives.

Finally – that’s the first word that comes to mind. Finally, I’ve finished school. Finally, I can start a career. Finally, we can find a home and establish some roots. Finally, we can make friends that we won’t say goodbye to as soon as we get to know them.

The problem is, life is full of finallys.

I think we all struggle at some point with the grass-is-always-greener mentality, sometimes in combination with the best-is-yet-to-come mentality. As a result of this combination, there are multiple fences and multiple lawns, the current one worse than the next. Another lawn is often greener than our own because our sprinklers are aiming over the fence.

We have to water our own lawn.

There’s nothing wrong with planning ahead, saving for tomorrow, investing now in something that will pay off in the future; unless our happiness gets tangled up in the saving, investing, and putting-off; unless we sacrifice so much of the present that the future loses its meaning or its value; unless the future never actually becomes the present.

Too often, we put happiness, good times with family and friends, thank yous, I’m sorrys, and I love yous, on hold, until tomorrow, the weekend, graduation, or summer vacation. Instead, we have to be happy now, enjoy the journey, carpe diem. We have to invest in today.

My wife and I started college and our family at the same time, a decision we’ve never regretted. But in my first couple years I reasoned that studying for 12 hours, only to spend a few minutes with my wife and kids each day, was a necessary sacrifice. I was investing in myself, in my education, so I could get a better job, and hopefully have a more flexible schedule and more reliable income down the road, at which point I’d spend more time with my family. I’ve since changed my strategy.

They say that regular stock market investments early in life are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars more, in the long run, than investments of twice the amount later in life. So, I think many of us weigh the trade-off in this way: work hard now, work less later, versus sacrifice family time now, enjoy family time later. The assumption is that the financial future is more important, and more valuable, than the family present.

The problem is, the same forces at work with financial investments also apply to investments in family and friends, and life; as with money, compounding interest creates rich relationships with loved ones as well. This is all theoretical for us, since we’re pretty new at the family thing, and the life thing, but I suspect that the preschool years are just as important as any others, both for us and our children.

I think, and hope, that spending quality time with my kids, now, will help us build a relationship that will weather adolescence, fingers crossed. So, rather than having financial security when my kids reach high school, I’d prefer to barely get by in exchange for some family security. Hopefully, we can have both. But I’d rather err on the side of family.

Read more here.

Merry Christmas!

After about an hour, and 50 tries using the camera timer, we managed to wrangle the kids and keep their fingers out of their noses for one decent family photo:

happy family

The 49 others went something like this:

crazy family

We’re just grateful our son got really dizzy and split his eyebrow open on the piano after the family photo frenzy. At 9 PM, Christmas Eve, we were in the ER:

stitches on Christmas Eve

Excessive spinning might have become a cherished family tradition. Oh well. With four kids, the odds are good that at least one is going to need stitches. Of course, that goes for any family activity, even the more sedentary ones. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone got injured reading The Lorax. One kid might pretend that they’re the super axe hacker, and that another kid’s head is a truffula tree.

[Last Christmas – so much simpler.]

While it was stressful, and our son might be missing a left eyebrow for the rest of his life, we tried to look on the bright side: it was his brow, not his eye, and pianos tend to be flat on the front, not spiky.

Merry Christmas!

big kids

Having More Kids: Scaling Up

Kid difficulty functionIn the last year of my PhD program I took a course on entrepreneurship in the business school. The professor described entrepreneurs as people who create organizations, in the face of risk and uncertainty, with the goal of producing something valuable.

You could think of parents as people who incorporate themselves into families, despite substantial financial risk and psychological uncertainty, with the goal of producing valuable, successful humans. So, parents are entrepreneurs. Some might even be considered start-up junkies. I’m not sure what to call the octomom, or the Duggars. They’re following the Starbucks model.

As with a supermarket or restaurant chain trying to expand, if the first kid seems to be working out, scaling the family up is a simple, logical next step. Parents develop a prototype child, and, depending on the outcome, they build the business by replicating their initial concept.

So, how bad would another kid be? It depends, of course, on things like your company’s debt-equity ratio and current assets, but, on average, each additional kid should be incrementally less difficult than the last as you learn from previous mistakes and build your diaper-changing and nose-wiping skill sets.

What is your goal for scaling up?

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We recently reached n = 4 and the data seem to support the kid difficulty model. The first is always craziness. Parents aren’t used to the stress of keeping a small, fragile human well and safe. We don’t know which of the standard health guidelines apply at the micro level. As a result, we become hypersensitive to any change which could indicate something serious.

Why is he breathing like that? Was that a burp, or just a baby grunt? So, should I keep burping him? Aren’t you patting him a little hard? You’re supposed to keep your palm open, not in a fist. No, that’s kind of slappy. Seriously, that would hurt my back.

So, he’s been crying for almost 20 minutes – something’s wrong. Is he hungry again? Didn’t you just nurse him? Maybe you should stop eating spicy food, and chocolate. Really? Maybe he’s cold? Turn on the heater. Or hot – check his temperature. 98.7? He might have a fever.

Oh, he probably needs his diaper changed – it’s totally your turn. What?! Is he eating algae? Green? Wait, now yellow!? Again? Where are all these bright pigments coming from? Is that normal?

After the first, you realize that most everything that appears strange and wrong is actually nothing to worry about. He’ll be fine. You’ve made most of the important decisions and the classic mistakes, like letting him sleep naked because he has a diaper rash. You know what to do when he swallows a marble, and, hopefully, you’ve been through the valley of the shadow of potty training. You’ve also learned that kids are pretty resilient to the basic parenting blunders.

Of course, scaling up is only the beginning. It just occurred to me that we’re going to have 4 teenagers, at the same time. I’m afraid.