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Concerning the Assessment and Treatment of Grown-up Grumps

An 11-year old boy was in my office recently, talking about the sources of some of his frustrations.  Lamenting that his dad promises to take him fishing and camping, but ‘just never does it,” this boy finally let loose with the ultimate in name-calling: he called his father a “big grump.”

I admit I was somewhat taken back by his harsh choice of words, for there’s not many things worse than being called a grump by your own kid. (I should know; I was accused of being a grump by one of my kids just last summer, and I didn’t like it one bit.)

I told the boy about my invention of the “Grumpometer” (pronounced like thermometer), and asked him to rate his father on it.  He claimed his dad is always at the high end of the scale, that “He doesn’t know how not to be a grump.”

While all parents have their moments of grumpiness, most of us don’t loiter around at the high end of the scale.  Still, in my estimation there are far too many parents who are inflexible, unjustifiably restrictive, or simply all too frequently critical of their children.  It is in honor of these parents that the Grumpometer scale was developed.

I want to reiterate that I’m not talking about parents who occasionally have a bad day, or who get stressed out from time to time.  I’m talking about those parents who make a living at saying “No” to their children, those who seem to be on the lookout for something to correct in people of the little variety.  I’m talking about the parents who can hardly muster a smile or a pleasant word for their children, even when in a ‘good’ mood.

To those in this camp I would say “Please stop being a grump. You’re giving parents everywhere a bad name.”

Naturally, grumps aren’t the only ones who need to work on their parenting; even we non-grumps need to spend more time saying ‘yes’ to our children and less time saying ‘no,’ more time holding them than scolding them, and more time praising them than berating them.  We all need to invest more time with our children playing Twister, helping them out with story problems, sticking love notes in their shoes while they sleep, asking for impromptu piano recitals, or (perish the thought!) playing a game or two of Nintendo.

This whole business of loosening up and being playful with our kids came up just the other day while I was talking with a 14-year old and his 17-year old sister.  “I wish my dad would loosen up,” he said.  “I just wish he’s joke around with us kids.”

“Yeah,” his sister added.  “Dad doesn’t know how to play with us.”

The idea may sound somewhat silly to some, but I see this as an all too common problem; the “play-challenged” parent.  Perhaps such parents never learned to run in the rain with their kids, or have forgotten just how fun Freeze Tag can be (especially if you have to crawl through a little person’s legs to ‘unfreeze’ them), but if they want to get behind the well-defended wall that many kids erect to protect themselves, if they want to get to the bottom of why a child is so angry, or if they simply want to enjoy some time with little folks, joining children in play is a good starting point.

I suppose it’s little coincidence that many grumps are also play-challenged.  But being playful and spontaneous with children can help ward off the rigor mortis so many worn down parents begin to exhibit.

I’ll never forget a particular overnight visit from my 60-year old father-in-law several years ago.  My wife and I were awakened Saturday morning by a ruckus upstairs.  When we went to investigate, we found Grandpa in our three and four-year old’s bedroom, jumping on the bed with them as they sang “No more monkeys jumping on the bed!” Naturally, my wife and I had to ground Grandpa for making us look like grumps, but he wiggled out of it by taking us out to brunch, which we later regretted because, as you can imagine, he became quite a handful at the park.

Speaking of parks, they’re a great training ground for the play-challenged…or for every grump, from the Head Grump to the Occasional Grump.  The fact is, we can all do a little more to loosen up, to be more flexible, to put a smile on our face and do something spontaneous with our kids.  We can all be a little more playful. Tag…you’re it!

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