How to Handle a Cranky Child

Even the happiest of kids can have cranky days.  If you are faced with a tot that's not at his best, Mighty Mommy has 5 tips on how to survive those unpleasant moments and turn them around.

Cheryl Butler
4-minute read
Episode #323

I don’t think there’s a parent out there who hasn’t had to deal with a cranky child. It's practically a rite of passage. 

Before I had kids, I had idyllic notions of a household of sweet, loving children who smiled and played happily all day. Of course, these fantasies were quickly squashed when I actually had kids and discovered how cranky they can get during periods of sickness, teething, discovering their independence, or not getting their way.  

All those temporary issues aside, the fact is that some kids (and adults) just have a crankier nature than others. But even the most cheerful kid has a crabby day here and there. Mighty Mommy has been through it all, so here are 5 tips to take your kid from crabby to cheerful.


Tip # 1: Don’t Let Yourself Get Cranky 

When an unpleasant childrearing situation crops up—whether it's a tantrum, whining, pouting, or any other bratty behavior that kids often resort to—the thing to remember is that you likely won't be able to control what your child does. The thing you can control, however, is how you respond. 

See also: 5 Ways That ‘Selfish Parenting’ Can Benefit Your Family


It’s easy to snap and get cranky right back, but all that does is add fuel to the fire. When you have an unhappy camper on your hands, regardless of their age, take a deep breath and step back before you respond.  When you’ve got the proper mindset, including your body language and tone of voice, you have a much better chance of defusing the situation.

A bonus is that this approach sets a good example of appropriate behavior for your child, without you having to lecture about it.  

Tip #2: "If they are crabby, put them in water"

One of my favorite children’s poems was written by an author known as SARK and it's called “How to Really Love a Child.” I love it because it's simple, real, and gives some great advice.  One of the lines in the poem is, “If they are crabby, put them in water.”

This tip was something that I used all the time when my kids were toddlers and preschoolers. I would fill the bathtub, grab their favorite tub toys, and let them splash around for 15 minutes. The warm weather seemed to soothe them and the unexpected bath time distracted them and usually changed their cranky behavior almost instantly. 

See also: Go Green: 4 Tips for Saving Water in Your Home


Even now, with my teens and tweens, if they’re having a bad day or are irritable about something, I always suggest they take a warm shower or bath.  It still works like a charm. And it's not just for kids. When I’m having a difficult moment, I fill the kitchen sink and wash dishes by hand with warm, soapy water. It’s relaxing and allows me to unclutter my mind and step away from my problems.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.