Mood Swings? - Yellowberry

September 26, 2017

Laughter. Tears. Silence.  Hysteria! Has your little girl suddenly started switching her mood more unpredictably than a tornado?

In a recent Yellowberry survey, “What Do Parents Want To Know?”  mood swings top the list, with over 66% of parents surveyed wanting help in this area. All of us have gone through (and may still go through) mood swings, but it’s an entirely different story when we have to figure out how to deal with our daughters’ mood swings.

Luckily, we’ve got plenty of great info and resources to help you deal with this challenging time.

As girls near puberty, their hormones begin to fluctuate, causing emotional ups and downs.  Along with this severe hormonal fluctuation comes the interesting tendency to just blurt out exactly what they're feeling, many times without any filter. As disturbing as it may be for parents, it’s likely just as disturbing for tweens, and an added cause of tension for both.  We all remember it: the inner struggle between wanting and needing to be cared for and protected, with the new, unfamiliar desire to be an independent person.  It’s not easy, and what makes it harder is the fact that the tweens themselves don’t consciously realize this struggle is happening.

Now before you sweep all moody behavior into the category of mood swings, there is something you should know. A mood disorder can look a lot like mood swings, and it can affect even the most well-adjusted tween. The two most common mood disorders are  depression and  bipolar disorder.   These involve periods of low mood, irritability, apathy, sleep issues, eating issues, fatigue, and lack of concentration.  In bipolar disorder, periods of depression alternate with periods of mania that can include an elevated or irritable mood, sleeping less, talking excessively, and being hyperactive.

Although these mood disorders may sound a lot like your moody tween, the fact is that they are relatively rare, especially in the tween age group.

So how can you tell whether your child has a mood disorder or is simply being a tween?

One key difference is  impairment. Every tween sulks at times, but take note of whether your tween's attitude is getting in the way of going to school, eating and sleeping, participating in sports or meeting up with friends. Is she basically living life the same way as always? Or, are these normal daily patterns disrupted because of her mood? If she generally doesn’t function in her day-to-day activities like she used to, you might want to take closer note of her behavior.

If her mood swings aren’t interfering with her normal daily activities, the moodiness is most likely normative. Keeping an eye on your child's classmates and friends is another great way to help you gain perspective on what's normal - even though it might not be anything like what's normal for us adults!

If your tween expresses a great deal of stress or begins to disengage from the world, or talks about suicide or hurts herself,  you should immediately talk with your child's doctor.

Here are some quick tips on dealing with mood swings:

1.      Give her space.  Allow her some breathing room to get through the mood swing and come back to a more “normal” state of being.  Sometimes she just needs to go off and cool down a bit. Suggest she go for a walk outside if possible. Breathing in fresh air works wonders on improving a person’s mood.

2.      Talk about her hormones. Explain to her what’s happening with her body.  While you can’t stop the swings, you can at least teach her about what is happening and let her know that it’s a normal part of growing up. Understanding what’s happening to her will give her a stronger sense of security because she’ll realize that she’s perfectly normal, and that everyone goes through it.

3.      Ignore her.  That’s right. Don’t let her get under your skin. As hard as it may be, do your best to not lose your cool.  You can acknowledge that she’s unhappy and be empathetic.  If she becomes irritable to those around her like siblings, tell her to take time out to calm down in her room.  She’ll be able to work through the swing without affecting anyone else.  Journaling is also a good way for her to write down how she’s feeling too.

Take heart, moms - this, too, shall pass!

Below are some great resources that will help you better understand your child’s moods:

The  Swensrud Depression Prevention Initiative  at  Children’s Hospital Boston.

Adolescent Wellness, Inc. , a nonprofit organization, offers information about school curricula developed by clinicians at  Children’s Hospital Boston  and  McLean Hospital.

The  School Psychiatry Program  at  Massachusetts General Hospital  provides online links to a variety of screening tools and advice about various psychiatric problems.

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