Why Does My Kid Lose It When We Are Having the Best Time?

Spoiled Outing Syndrome. That is the technical term at Hand in Hand Parenting for this kind of phenomenon where you are having a lovely time and your kid loses it for no apparent reason.

We all need to know what spoiled outing syndrome is if we want the good times we plan with our kids to pan out. 

I'd made an impromptu escape to the beautiful sun-drenched Algarve with my two kids.

grumpy-girl-is-upsetOn the surface, it looked like they were having the best time. They were:

  • Splashing in rock pools,
  • Running about my aunt’s gorgeous villa,
  • Loving each other

Why the cries?

One afternoon, after a sweet morning with lots of Special Time, we set out for an adventure at the much-adored local beach.

Except for my daughter.

She did not set out at all.

She stood naked outside the front door refusing to wear clothes, get into her buggy or walk with us.

And Here's Why…

“I’m cold, I’m cold, I won’t go to the beach,” she wailed like she was set on repeat.

I listened.

“I hear you, I’m sorry you don’t like our plan right now.”

I listened and listened.

About 40 minutes went by, and her brother was running out of patience.

My daughter howled: “I want a different T-shirt.” I reminded her that the one on offer was just fine.

Then my son started sobbing too.“I’m dying of boredom, I don’t even want to go anymore,” he said,

I was getting fed up. I vented to no-one in particular, “I’m just trying to take you guys for a picnic on the beach, nothing horrible ya know!”

And then the penny dropped…

I knew why my daughter was behaving like this.

Spoiled Outing Syndrome.

That is the technical term at Hand in Hand Parenting for the phenomenon where you are having a lovely time and your kid suddenly loses it for no apparent reason.

Spoiled Outing Syndrome is something you can expect to happen when you have some sweet, connected time with your children, often during a day out or over the holidays.

Spoiled outing syndrome doesn't have to wreck the whole day…

It's not your kid who is spoiled, it's the outing. (Although that isn't your child's intention at all!). But all is not lost. Read on to see just how you can get back to having the best time.

Yet it really can seem like they are acting spoiled or ungrateful. You may notice all kinds of nutty behavior:

  • Defiance
  • Refusing to change, tidy up, go out, eat
  • Saying loud, sassy or outrageous things
  • Getting cranky over little things
  • Pushing all the boundaries
  • Doing things they know you don't like
  • Getting competitive
  • Getting up from the table and running around
  • Demanding all your attention when you are trying to talk to someone else (and yes, that does include climbing in your lap and pulling your chin to face them!)

All those typical “annoying” behaviors can leave you ready to boil. Especially because you were just trying to do.something.nice.

Shouldn't they be wildly happy and grateful with extra dollops of co-operation and enthusiasm?

You'd think…

Your child isn't spoiled or ungrateful…

It's really just the opposite.

The sense of trust and safety you build up when you pour your delight and attention onto your children allows feelings to bubble up from all the times where it hasn’t felt this way.

The body, with its extraordinary physical and emotional self-mending capacity, uses the first opportunity it gets to dump out all the feelings about the times where there was not the same high level of connection. When you couldn't be there in the same way.

That day, when we finally ambled to the beach (peacefully I might add) I realised how it was probably the first time in months I’d spent a few days of unrushed, unpressured time with my kids. Now, right on cue, here were their feelings.

Not surprisingly, these reactions can often throw us as parents because we can think, ‘Hey I’m giving you everything you need today, why are you upset?!’

Life… just when you think you have it figured out it throws you curveballs like this.

How my daughter soon proved me right…

So what happened with my daughter?

Sure enough, her wailing about the T-shirt soon progressed into some quieter words:

“If Daddy were here, you could take Zephyr to the beach and he would get me another T-shirt.”

There, it was. 

She used the T-shirt as a reason to get some feelings out about my recent separation from her dad.

Her upset was about that even though it sounded like it was about her T-shirt.

You'll see that what your child says first can sound like a million other different whines or complaints. They might not even give you any indication of what's really upsetting them.

But once my daughter got that upset out, her mood improved.

She finally let me dress her and then she clambered into her stroller. As we walked, my son had his turn to sob, throwing down his spade and then crying about throwing it, then crying more when I suggest we go and pick it up.

Then he said:

“I miss Daddy…”

But guess what?

After some heavy crying, he too returned back to his happy self.

Having this relaxed time allowed us all to tune in more deeply with each other and for me to be more relaxed and available. My kids had been ‘holding on’ for a chance to feel safe enough to let go. Now, here it was!

Don't take it personally…

So if this happens in your family over the holidays, try not to take it personally.

Your child is acting out. Acting out his or her true feelings. And that's ok.

Kids really don't do this to push your buttons. They aren't ungrateful or spoiled. Actually, it's a sign that times are good for them. A sign they love you and wouldn't be anywhere else.

Embrace it for the therapeutic emotional clear out that it is. After all, we all sometimes benefit from a good cry.

So, what can you do?

If you are out on a day designed to please them and they are acting like you've asked them to count blades of grass, here's what you can do to work through the Spoiled Outing Syndrome in a few simple steps.

Reverse Spoiled Outing Syndrome with these Six Simple Steps

Respond to one whine. If they say they want the blue hat, not the black hat, happily respond to that request and land that blue hat on their head.

Set a limit. If their whining continues, there's a good reason to think something else is going on. If they refuse sunblock next, keep close and hold the sunblock, and listen to their complaints. Setting a limit early, on the second or third refusal or sassy act, helps because you aren't at the end of your rope yet either.

Remind them of the limit. By repeating the limit, “We will put on sunblock before we go to the beach,” you uphold your limit, and you also give them more chances to get their feelings out.

Listen. Just nod, keep warm, and listen. Sometimes you'll hear what's underneath their upset, but other times they won't be able to articulate it.

Guide them back to their “reason” for crying by bringing it up once in a while. There's no need to reason, just state this clearly and watch what happens next. If “I see you don't want to wear sunblock,” brings up more upset, you know their feelings haven't cleared.

Wait it out. Once they have shed the bulk of their feelings, your child will be happier about cooperating. That sunblock? It won't be a behavior block at all.

A spoiled outing cry doesn't have to mean an outing is spoiled for long. When you know how to recognise that your child is struggling with Spoiled Outing Syndrome and you use these six steps, all is not lost. You can continue on to have the best time. Just like you planned.

Don't know how to listen without jumping in and trying to fix things? Here are 20 Things To Say Instead of “Don't Cry.”

For more holiday parenting help read Helping Your Children Get Along, Especially During the Holidays

If you want to know more about Special Time see our free video series here.

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