Sometimes a shift in your child’s demeanor is actually nothing more than a symptom of illness that neither of you know about yet. Many times, the underlying cause for a suddenly selfish act or a whiny tone is that an ear infection, stomach flu, or some other illness has unknowingly begun. It's truly humbling to find oneself having been all upset over a shift in your kid’s mood only to be dealing with double ear infections, a high fever, or cleaning up vomit 20 minutes later!
Even after you are able to recognize that your child’s mood is related to an illness, Achy can aggravate the situation by capitalizing on your child’s vulnerable emotional state. A sick child may be more likely to be attacked by the Get-Along, Hurry-Up, or the Can’t-Do Crabbies. This may show up as being argumentative with parents or siblings, not being able to promptly follow requests, or not being able accomplish tasks that they can easily do when they are feeling well. Some of these patterns are the same as the signs you expect to see when the Too-Tired Crabbies are involved. This is because when kids are sick, they are also likely to be tired or worn out. If you are able to identify whether your child is sick (or getting sick) versus simply lacking enough sleep, you will be able to use strategies that best fit your child’s needs.
In addition to showing up when your child has an acute illness, Achy also shows up in more subtle ways when children do not get enough physical activity. The signs might include a lack of energy and enthusiasm, general disinterest, complaining about headaches or other body aches, and being more reactive to stress. Younger children tend to naturally engage in physical play. Older children might be more prone to playing with technology, so it is important to monitor whether children who like to watch tv or play video games are also getting enough active playtime.
Although prevention is a great strategy for beating all of The Crabbies, it is especially crucial for Achy. After all, once you end up getting sick, you are vulnerable to the Achy Crabbies! If you can prevent getting sick, you are one step ahead of the game.
Real success in keeping the Achy Crabbies out of the picture goes beyond avoiding illness and is found in promoting well-being through exercise and good health habits. If you are successfully beating the Too-Tired, Hungry, and Junk-Food Crabbies, you are already right on track. Furthermore, exercise can play an important physiological role in preventing illness. Exercise also boosts positive mood through increasing brain chemicals associated with happiness. (Note: in adults, exercise is the best known treatment for mild to moderate depression; it is also an effective strategy for reducing anxiety.) By encouraging kids to be active and get exercise when young, you are setting them up to be able to maintain positive mental health as well as physical health.
Helping your child build in a lifestyle of active play and exercise is important for a variety of reasons. By getting plenty of physical activity, your child can strengthen his or her body. This can lead to an improved immune system, increased productive energy, better ability to be calm and relaxed, positive mood, and self-confidence.
Kids can get exercise through play. Encourage them to run around the yard, play active games, play sports, jump rope, hopscotch, climb, slide, swing, etc. If you want to take steps on the community level, we recommend communicating to your school board or PTA/PTO that you support keeping gym class and playground time as part of the education curriculum. Studies have shown that kids who participate in physical activities during the school day perform better in the classroom.
Managing germs is another category of essential strategies for maintaining positive health. Two obvious rules for preventing the spread of germs:
1. WASH YOUR HANDS
After using the bathroom
Before and after eating
After blowing your nose
After playing outside
2. KEEP HANDS OUT OF MOUTHS AT ALL TIMES
Gently remind your child that this is a step to beating Achy when he or she forgets or absent-mindedly has hands in their mouth
Obviously, even with the best of intentions and great follow-through, people are going to get sick. Achy will certainly try to exploit these opportunities. Once someone is sick you can successfully beat Achy by working on the same strategies used to beat Too-Tired. Getting enough sleep will speed recovery from illness and will also minimize the chance that other Crabbies will show up and compound the problem.
An important point to be aware of is that when children are sick, it is reasonable to change your expectations. A sick child simply isn’t going to be able to do as much, and whatever they do decide to do, they are likely to be in a different spot emotionally. A little empathy goes a long way. Lowering expectations so that your child does not become frustrated will help ease Achy out of the picture.
A quick tip: If your child needs medication, be sure to give any meds all the way through the full number of days the prescription says. This will help keep the strongest GERMS still sneaking around inside from surviving and coming back! We know it can be a struggle to get kids to take their medications. Creating a chart and focusing on their good work at beating Achy as they take each dose can keep them on track. Don’t hesitate to give a sticker or a candy treat after each dose.