Different children have different temperaments. Most of us parents discover quickly that our children do not arrive as cherubic blank slates after all, but come with at least the basics of their own unique personalities. Some children are easy going and pleasant, while others seem to be continually in a bad mood. For the parent of the constantly “fussy” child, the fussiness does not end when the diapers do. Coping with that child who seems to be forever unsettled, grumbly and frustrated can be a big challenge.
For a child whose temperament is just “fussy” and you have determined there is no obvious cause for this discontent other than personality, acceptance is likely the first step in learning how to parent. This is just who he or she is and while you may have wanted a “happy” child, fussy does not have to preclude happiness. Plus, the child is going to be who he or she is forever while you only have to be the “hands on parent” for a relatively short time.
Try to detach in a healthy way from the child’s fussiness. Do not take it personally or get so enmeshed in trying to “cheer up” the child or get her to see things your way. Simply accepting the personality trait and detaching with compassion can make a world of difference in how much you let the fussy behaviors trigger you. You may want to use your child’s temperament as an invitation to look at your own—are you a fussy person? Does your child’s fussiness trigger your own? Were you raised to believe that you have to be perky and pleasant all of the time and thus you feel resentful when your child expresses his displeasure? Having healthy boundaries with a fussy child means acknowledging what is “your stuff” and what belongs to the child.
While you cannot change the temperament, you can set behavior expectations. Teach the child how to own his or her feelings and learn ways to self-cope. Instead of blaming or expecting someone else to “fix it” (this is one of the reasons detaching is so important, if we get stuck trying to cheer up a fussy child, he will grow up to think that it is someone else’s job instead of learning how to manage his own emotions and behaviors), encourage the child to figure out for himself what is wrong (if anything) and what will make it better. As your child gets older, let her know what is acceptable—writing in a journal, going for a walk, talking with a friend, etc—as ways to work through discontent and what is not (excessive or abusive behaviors, blaming others, tantrums, etc.) The child may always be a bit on the fussy side, but he or she can learn to manage the fussiness and still behave appropriately.