Original question from Quora:

What is it that nobody tells you about having children?

My Answer:

There is one big surprise in having children…

…Actually there are several, but listing them all wouldn’t make as witty of an Quora answer, so…

There is one big surprise in having children, and it has nothing to do with your kids.

When you have kids you see things that you take for granted after a while. For example, if you are a parent this story is going to make you nod your head and realize how strange people are.

Every so often on a nice Saturday afternoon, my wife and I will take our kids to a park or a zoo. They will run and play and laugh and it’s fantastic.

Parents will describe these outings as “a great way to get their energy out” because parents understand that small children are often filled with energy. You must deplete that energy or they will bounce around the house like pinballs bounce off railings and paddles, making lots of noise and breaking things along the way.

But, if you’ve been around children much, you’ve seen this and it’s no surprise. Just wait, I’m getting to it.

Now, after they have played for a while, they will often hit another phase. The cranky, screaming, overtired phase where a small child can yell a the top of their lungs for up to fifteen minutes straight, all while crying, screaming about a lost toy or some other worldly misfortune, and refusing any form of help or comfort.

It’s the toddler equivalent of “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it!” and it sucks.

Recently, this happened on a trip to Legoland, where one child at the end of the day decided that one minute he was happy to ride on my shoulders as we left the park, and the next minute was a tiny towering inferno of rage and sadness. He screamed without ceasing for what felt like hours (it was only a few minutes), on the way out to the parking lot.

As with all incidents, you try and pinpoint the issue to keep it from happening again. It was some combination of being hungry, tired, and upset all at the same time. A perfect storm if you will.

Kids will yell and scream if they are tired, hungry, or mad. Sometimes they will do the same thing if they are hurt or sad, but a simple check for tiny wounds, a nearby sibling looking guilty, and the intensity of the crying tends to tell you if they are injured or not.

So as a parent, your job is to keep your kid with a regular sleep schedule, a regular and healthy food schedule, and a reasonable emotional environment to live in. If you take any of those things away, you are asking for trouble.

Let me restate that because it is vital that you understand. Take away food, sleep, and a happy family and you will have a very unhappy, hard to deal with child.

Most every problem in a young person’s life comes down to food, sleep, and loving family relationships.

If you don’t understand that, you might think that the behavior of children is sometimes irrational, overdramatic, and bizarre. From a distance it might be, but when you are a parent you will see that usually your kids are hungry, tired, or upset about something their siblings or you did.

But then, a surprising pattern emerges…

You’ll notice that some adults exhibit the same kind of manic depressive, bipolar, happy/sad, overtired, hungry, cranky behavior that little kids do. It’s weird, but there are a lot of similarities in behavior between kids and adults.

For example, have you ever had the experience as a kid where a parent comes home and they are angry about everything? They complain about the house, how stressed they are, and how you need to do your chores.

Later, after supper, they seem fine and aren’t so grouchy. It’s as if they are different people.

Sort of like when your kids get cranky late in the afternoon when they don’t get a snack or a nap. It can feel like World War 3 if you aren’t careful. But, if you feed them, they are fine.

That is the strange thing you learn. Adults are tall children. We have the same basic needs and often the same basic problems.

If we don’t get enough food, sleep, or good healthy relationships, we get tired, cranky, and angry. It can range from mild grumpiness to full on monstrous rage, complete with yelling, fighting, or even physical violence.

But here is the kicker, adults don’t realize they are tall children. Many struggle with controlling their emotions throughout the day, but flat out reject the idea it has anything to do with their poor sleep, poor diet, and poor relationship situations.

Often it’s two out of the three that are out of whack, and so is the person.

Adults and children can both benefit from the same things: a healthier diet, regular sleep, and healthy relationships with those closest to you.

So next time you or some other adult starts freaking out and acting like an overtired three year old, ask the question “when was the last time you ate?” or “how did you sleep last night?” or “how are your relationships with your family/spouse/close friends?”

You’d be surprised how often what people are really mad about is they are hungry, tired, or sad about something.

We really are tall children pretending to be grown-ups.

-Brian

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