Our house is sometimes visited by a mystical creature we lovingly call “Mr. Grumpy Pants.” Mr. Grumpy Pants is not an easy guest to entertain; sometimes the slightest inconvenience can derail his whole day.

A new cereal at breakfast might make him pout, or his brother might just annoy him. In any case, we don’t like Mr. Grumpy Pants to stay for very long. I’m sure Mr. (or Ms.) Grumpy Pants pays visits to other houses too, right?

In an effort to quell the grumps and restore happiness to our house, we often employ these four research-backed activities.

1 | Outside play

When my youngest son was three months old, he was diagnosed with severe gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Even though his medicine gave him great relief, he often had episodes so painful that his medicine couldn’t make him fully comfortable. In a desperate attempt to find something to distract him, my husband took him outside one day during an awful screaming session.

As if by magic, he calmed down as my husband rocked him under the shade of an ash tree. My little boy, with tears still clinging to his cheeks, reached out to touch a leaf. We now call the tree “therapy tree.” The outdoors didn’t heal his GERD, but it was calming enough to distract him and sooth his mood, and research shows this to be true. 

Most parents know that time spent outdoors is beneficial for children on a physical level. Running, skipping, and playing sports keeps children’s bodies lean and healthy, but the great outdoors can also boost emotional and mental health.

The National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play illustrates this point: “Kids who play outside are happier, healthier, and stronger!” Outdoor play directly affects children’s moods by lowering stress levels.

Happier kids tend to be more well-behaved kids. Not to mention, after a full day of hard and fun play, bedtime comes much more easily to children. Win, win!

2 | Quality snacks

I am officially that mom who always has random snacks in my purse: granola bars, little baggies of this, a small Tupperware of that. I’ve even been known to have a box of chocolate milk in my purse.

I’ve witnessed too many hunger-induced tantrums to leave the house without snacks. Little bodies are constantly moving and growing. They need to eat and snack to sustain their famed energy levels. The choice of snack, however, is what can make or break that good behavior we so desperately want to see.

A 2007 study states: “Artificial colors or a sodium benzoate preservative (or both) in the diet result in increased hyperactivity in three-year-old and eight-/nine-year-old children in the general population.”

A quick read of the nutritional label might spare you from the extra tantrum!

3 | Cutting out technology before bed

When my younger son was born, our family fell into a new bedtime habit. Our older son would watch one of his favorite shows on the iPad while we put the baby to sleep. It kept him quiet and occupied so we could have the peace we needed for the baby. Except that this plan backfired.

When it became his turn for bed, he was nowhere near ready. He was amped up and began pleading for “one more show, one more, just one more.” We were in a pickle and this new habit had to stop.

My husband took over reading duties with our three-year-old, while I flew solo with the baby. This new routine was the golden ticket. Not only did my husband gain precious bonding time, but our son nearly always fell asleep by the end of the third book. No more tears, no more crying about shows. Just cuddles and Daddy’s gentle voice reading.

Once again, science can back up our anecdotal findings. The American Medical Association reminds us that light emitted from technology (e.g. the iPad that my son used) disrupts the beginning of the sleep process. This light emission most notably affects children. My son wasn’t able to fall asleep because the light was stimulating him and waking him up – not calming him down like I thought it was.

4 | Massage

This is my favorite way to improve the mood of my children. When I was pregnant, I read about infant massage and I thought it seemed like a decent idea, but it wasn’t until my oldest son was about two when I realized just how much he enjoyed it.

After a day spent barefoot at the pool, I massaged lotion into his feet to hydrate them. I saw his little body instantly relax and melt into the couch. Even though moments before he had been antsy, he was now mellow and content.

Flash forward to our next son. It’s movie night and Mommy and Daddy are trying to watch a movie, but the toddler is running and jumping and happily screaming. I don’t want to abandon movie night so I grab the bottle of lotion. Once again, the previously hyper boy is now a puddle in my lap, soaking up every moment of massage.

According to the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, massage for children is both a bonding activity and a stress reducer. Once again, children who are less stressed are happier. 

Not every bad mood can be wiped away with outdoor play, a snack, a good bedtime routine, or a massage but I have found that these four activities are my go-to’s when I see that Mr. Grumpy Pants is planning a visit.

That said, sometimes the best thing to do to boost a child’s mood is a hug, a kiss, and an “I love you.”