• Dr. Luisa Bryce

Don't Ask "Why?" With Your Moody Child


Children get moody for all sorts of reasons. Some are understandable, like when your 3-year-old child bursts inside with a skinned knee and a bloody lip. Others are not so obvious, like when your 8-year-old is quiet and withdrawn after a seemingly routine day at school. Children, especially very young children, are not always good at verbally articulating their feelings. So when you ask your moody child, “Why are you so angry?” or “Why are you sad?”, your kids may not have the skills to articulate what emotion they are experiencing and why they are feeling that way, especially in the heat of the moment. “Why?” can increase your child’s anxiety and make them even less likely to articulate what’s bothering them.

Leave the Emotion Word Out

Think about a time recently when you’ve experienced a strong emotion. Did anyone ask you, for example, "Why are you mad?" If so, was mad truly what you were feeling? And were you able to articulate it? Although adults typically have more developed skills compared to kids when it comes to expressing our feelings, expressing what you feel can still be quite difficult.


Let me tell you about my recent experience. I had a very overwhelming day at the office. I didn’t have time to make a lunch, so I had to settle for takeout, which gave me a stomachache. When I got home, I was hungry, tired, and my stomach hurt. My mom was visiting our family and immediately asked why I was so irritable. Sure, I was irritable, but the emotions I was more strongly feeling were overwhelmed and exhausted. Her words were not helpful. In fact, I felt even more irritable, exhausted, and overwhelmed because she could only see the tip of the iceberg regarding what I was feeling.


To be fair, other people can’t read your mind. They don’t know how you are truly feeling unless you tell them. We want to be sure our kids know this. When it comes to our kids, we want to create an environment where they can learn to accurately identify and express their emotions. We don’t want to put words in their mouths or give them reason to believe the emotion they are actually feeling is incorrect or inaccurate.

Create an environment for emotional success

Here’s a few ways you can create an environment that will set your kiddo up for emotional success:


Don’t assume your child is feeling a particular emotion just because he is displaying a certain behavior. For example, don’t ask “Why are you sad?” when your child is crying. He could be feeling sad, angry, overwhelmed, anxious, scared… the list goes on. Assuming can cause your child to feel frustrated and misunderstood.


Instead do this:

  • Ask “What’s going on?” or “What happened?” It’s much easier to explain events and situations as opposed to articulating feelings.

  • Then ask, “How are you feeling right now?” or you can say, “Your body looks like it might be sad, is that right?” Taking a guess at how your child is feeling is okay, while assuming is not. If you get it right, your child will feel validated. If you get it wrong, your child will have a chance to correct you and tell you how he really feels.

  • Use a visual aid to help your child learn and express emotions accurately, such as a sheet displaying faces with different emotions.

  • If your child is really struggling, start by using a simple, nonverbal tool, such as a color wheel, to promote feeling expression. Initially, start with a few basic emotions (e.g. happy, sad, angry). Ask your child how he is feeling and have him point to a color. Once he is used to this, expand it to include a verbal label with the color. It may take some time and observation to determine which color means which feeling for your child.

Teaching your kids how to accurately and skillfully express their emotions is one of the most useful communication tools you can give them for both present and future success.


Got more questions? Comments? Don’t hesitate to contact me at Harmony At Home.

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