Riding the Tides of Tween Mood Swings: Be the Elder, Not the Authority

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All tweens ride a roller coaster of emotional mood swings. How can parents help them? First, remind them that they are OK, and then follow these words of wisdom.

girl sits in a depression on the floor near the wallThese days at my house, we’re in that happy, happy space between the rushes of hormonal tween mood rage. A cozy little spot where the 12-year-old is once again a human and the 10-year-old will still start a story with the opening line: Once upon a time there was a magic land filled with fluffy marshmallows.

One started her period exactly a year ago; the other has a few years to go.

Everyone’s hormones (and moods) are mostly even keel. Talk about a magic land of marshmallows.

Living with unpredictable Frankenmonsters, who could, can and do flip out over nothing at any time for any reason or no reason at all, is a special kind of parental torture. There’s little consolation in knowing that they all go through it.

And crazy-making as it is for us, extreme mood swings are even worse for them. We know the cause: hormones. We know the cure: time. We’ve lived it.

My daughter Roxie was volatile for a year before her period started. “Volatile” is my diplomatic word choice, meaning that one minute she was laughing, the next she was slamming doors. Or her sister. Or me.

This is where we get to define our parenting. We decide what parts of their behavior we react to and how we address it.

(Sure, I’ve asked myself more than once: “Am I raising a sociopath?”)

One night in a stretch of angry Roxie outbursts, I just stopped battling her. She stood me down, eye to eye — and I let her. I walked away from the conflict, stopped trying to force her to behave better.

Instead of leveling consequences, I asked her if she noticed how she’d gone from happy to angry for no apparent reason. Of course she had. And there was my opening.

“It kind makes you feel like you’re going crazy,” I said.

“A little bit,” she said.

“There’s nothing wrong with you,” I said.

She needed to hear that her experience is normal and all kids her age feel the same thing — that it’s part of her body’s way of growing from one phase of life into another. Most of all, she needed to know that it will stop. She won’t feel emotionally insane forever.

Even when your kids’ behavior is not OK, they need to know that they are. Just saying it out loud was a huge relief for both of us. They don’t know what’s causing their crazy. They need us to explain. They need an elder, not an authority.

It’s a crazy emotional trip: Here’s how you can be their guide.

1. Consider the long arc of your relationship with this child. Be the lifelong confidant you strive to be, not just an enforcer doling out the bad behavior consequences.

2. Step away from the power struggle, you can’t win. You are not dealing with a small child or a rational adult.

3. Sometimes they need to sit in their rooms, alone with their angst. Let them.

4. Help them become self-aware teens and adults by putting language to feelings they can’t yet name.

5. Remind yourself (and them) that this too shall pass.
More from Holly Goodman

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