Young children can only handle so much. Around about 3:30 in the afternoon they start to lose it. They start to become not quite human. Parents don’t seem to notice this because they don’t have perspective on the situation. I have worked in customer service for most of my life. I have had the advantage (?) of seeing this happen over and over again every day for many years. Around about 3:30 children start to have what is sometimes termed “a meltdown”. They start to cry and get whiny and fall apart.
One mother even said “I’m just going to smack him right in the mouth.” about her whining child. I’ve seen other mothers very impatient with their children and think that they are just being difficult. I’ve seen other mothers just stare at their children as they flop on the floor, crying and wailing loudly. They have no idea what is going on, and no idea what to do to stop it.
Children aren’t being difficult at that time of day. There’s only so much they can handle.
Do you expect to get a gallon’s worth of milk out of a quart bottle? It isn’t possible. Children are the same way. They just don’t have the capacity that adults have.
Children are not small adults. Children wear out a lot faster. Children need rest and food and water a lot more often than adults do. And by food and water I don’t mean candy and sugar and caffeine. That only makes it worse.
It isn’t fair to expect a small child to be able to go the whole day on limited resources without falling apart. You have to understand their limits and work with them. It isn’t the child’s fault that they have been out all day. Children don’t have control over their environment or what happens to them. They feel very frustrated and they don’t have the words to express their frustration. They express them in the ways that they have. With their limited resources they express that they are unhappy by crying or wailing or holding back from going anywhere. Sometimes they resist a change in their environment because it is a way to exercise control.
The whole issue is control. They don’t have it. And that is the problem. Around mid-afternoon they start to lose their self-control so they try to exert control over whatever they can. Sadly, at that point, nothing will soothe them because they just don’t know what is wrong. Sadly, many parents don’t either, and they don’t notice that their child’s inconsolable wails have little to do with anything obvious. It looks like they are crying about their dolly, or their shoe, or their brother, but really, they are crying because they are at the end of their rope because they are worn out.
When I was working at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo I often saw families that were all worn out come mid-afternoon. They had small children with them and they had been adventuring all day long. The children were not about to sit down and be still and calm while mom was looking through the craft store. I learned to dread that time of day because the parents always got frustrated with their children.
The children were just being children. There was nothing wrong with them. They were doing what comes natural to them when they are worn out. The problem is the parents who weren’t parenting. The parents were not taking into account the natural limitations of being a child.
The parents were not being kind to the children. It wasn’t fair to the children or anybody else around them. In order to travel or be around small children, you need to plan ahead to avoid problems. It is good if the whole family can have a nap some time shortly after lunch. If that isn’t possible, then at least have everybody sit and be quiet in a cool, darkish place for at least 30 minutes. People recharge better if they are away from the harsh stimuli of heat and light.
Most of all, make sure that they have had enough food and enough water. This does not mean candy bars and sodas. You have to give them the right fuel in order to keep going. But it’s also not fair to push them beyond their limits. Don’t get frustrated with them – they can’t help it. Learn from it, and plan ahead.