My daughter is 12-turning-13, so we’re at the tail end of the “tween moodiness” phase. At least we better be at the tail end. Because I don’t know how many more door-slamming, teeth-gritting, “I hate you no I love you no I hate you no” outbursts I can stand before I turn into Faye Dunaway in Chinatown.
According to a recent article on Today’s Parent, tween moodiness can be chalked up to the fact that “between the ages of nine and 11 (some kids start earlier and some later), growth hormones begin to take center stage, while the brain’s executive center (where emotions are managed) is undergoing major construction.”
“Think of a car,” said David Walsh, psychologist and author of the book Why Do They Act That Way? A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen. “During the preteen years, it’s like the gas pedal is to the floor, and the brakes are on back order.”
In other words, tween emotions are running high and out of control. And since the last thing most tweens will admit during this stage is that they need our help to navigate the highs and lows, Today’s Parent offers the following three tips for dealing with mood swings. And—surprise, surprise—none of them involve us drinking alcohol to dull the pain!
Don’t take the bait
According to parenting expert and psychotherapist Alyson Schafer, the tween years are a period in which independence and assertiveness often come into play, and challenging authority can be a way to rebel against being a conformist. The key, she explains, is to stay calm while remaining confident. How? “Respond to the content, not the tone. A moody preteen doesn’t have to spoil your family dinner when she tells you she hates your lasagna; tell her you’re sorry she’s disappointed, then move on to the next topic.”
Encourage healthy habits
Emotions tend to get more intense when we’re tired, so helping your children take better care of their bodies can help cut through some of the moodiness. Encourage your tween to exercise for at least an hour a day. And if you can join them for a walk or bike ride, even better. But please don’t overdo it. Tweens still need to eat well and get plenty of rest to remain healthy—two things that tend to fall by the wayside if they’re suffering from activity-overload.
Don’t try to fix it
Finally, remember that at this age, listening is the key to getting your tween to open up. Your job is to really hear what they are trying to tell you, without automatically flying into fix-it mode. Try starting an open-ended conversation with your tween when things are calm—like in the car maybe, or while you’re out tossing around a ball. And here’s another great tip: According to Schafer, some kids seem to find communicating with parents via text helpful since it feels less intimidating, so go ahead and give that a try.
Please keep in mind that preteen mood swings can seem very similar to the signs of depression. Today’s Parent cautions that if your child is experiencing sadness or anxiety that appears to be more than ordinary moodiness, you shouldn’t hesitate to seek professional help.