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Meet and BEAT the Too-Tired Crabbie!

Have you ever noticed that when your child is too tired, he or she is much more likely to be in a bad mood, cry, or even throw a fit over the littlest things? Some parents remark that their child is almost like a different person when overly tired.
Too-Tired Crabbie with Jay laying face down 'SPLAT!'
Kids get crabby when they are tired because being tired is what psychologists call a vulnerability factor. Not getting enough sleep makes us more vulnerable to getting upset, not thinking clearly, and having other problems. This is just as true for adults as it is for children (a section for Sleep will be added under Research soon for those wanting more detailed information). Most adults have enough coping skills that they are able to get through a stretch of fatigue without having a total meltdown, but children have fewer coping skills and are more easily overwhelmed by even small shortages of sleep.

If a child ALWAYS seems over-sensitive, it is very possible that he or she may NEVER be getting enough sleep. It would be very easy to think it’s a personality issue when it’s really just a chronic lack of sleep. Trust us on this! Chronically tired children may exhibit difficult behaviors that you and others have grown to think are their personality. A tired child is more likely to be:

  • Over-reactive or oversensitive
  • Gloomy
  • Lacking energy or coordination
  • Inability to focus
  • Impulsive
  • Whiny or cries
  • ‘Wild’
  • Having trouble getting along with other kids or may hit others

If your child did not get enough sleep (see below) at some point during the week, the Too-Tired Crabbie will probably show up. Watch for the signs described above and also pay attention to the specific ways your child acts when Too-Tired is the culprit. Soon, these patterns will start to be very clear and you will understand how important it is to Beat the Too-Tired Crabbie.

Hint: Many adults relate to this concept and recognize that the Too-Tired Crabbie sneaks into their own lives as well. We recommend parents strive to beat the Too-Tired Crabbie along with their children.

When Too-Tired is on the scene, you can bet that many other Crabbies will show up too! Help your child understand that being a CrabbieMaster of the Too-Tired Crabbies will help him or her also become a CrabbieMaster of the Get-Along, Can’t-Do, Hurry-Up, and Achy Crabbies. Children who are overtired have a hard time getting along with others, trying new things, being able to do things that they can easily do when they are rested, listening, doing what is asked when it is asked, and, they are more prone to getting sick. This is why we consider Too-Tired to be “The Worst Crabbie in the Universe!”

Beat TOO-TIRED

The only way to prevent the Too-Tired Crabbies is to be sure your child gets enough sleep. This means they need to sleep well at night. For many kids, they also need to take a daytime nap or have a resting quiet time.
Images of CrabbieMasters sleeping or napping.
We understand that a wide variety of factors may interfere with your child’s sleep. Some problems are occasional (e.g., waking up after a nightmare, didn’t sleep well because of a cough) and others are chronic (e.g., late bedtimes because of busy schedules, older people in the house go to bed later and younger children protest going to sleep earlier). We believe it is important to address chronic factors, even if that means major lifestyle changes for your family, because sleep is so important for child development.

Even if you do your best to make sleep a priority, sometimes there will be disruption and your child will get the Too-Tired Crabbies. If Too-Tired shows up on a given day, tell your child you think this has happened and then work together to be sure he or she gets a good sleep that night. A nap might also help put Too-Tired right back in his place. Sometimes a 20-minute nap or a quiet rest time is all that is needed to transform your child’s mood. If that works, great!

However, much of the time, once Too-Tired has shown up the best strategy is to do your best not to be upset by your child’s mood and to focus on working together to prevent this from happening in the future. If the case of The Crabbies is really bad, don’t try to reason with your child in the moment, just acknowledge that Too-Tired has gotten into the day and don’t blame your child. Assure them that you notice that Too-Tired is causing problems today and that you will help them Beat Too-Tired by helping them get better rest. Our experience is that most children do not like how they feel when the Too-Tired Crabbie has gotten them. They are usually relieved that you are going to help them with this problem, and they become willing to be on your team as you both become CrabbieMasters of the Too-Tired Crabbies.

How do you know if your child is getting enough sleep? The following information may serve as a guide.

Average number of hours of sleep needed per day, including nighttime sleep and naps:

Infant (0-12 months) - 14-18 hours
Toddler (13-36 months) - 13 hours
Preschooler (3-6 years) - 12 hours
School-age (6-12 years) - 10-11 hours
Adolescent (13-19 years) - 9.25 hours
Adult (20+ years) - 8.25 hours

*Average sleep needs according to the book Sleepless in America, by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, (p. 123). Note, some sleep needs vary by person, some need less and some need more, these are general guidelines.