About pre-teen and teenage moods
Moods, or emotional ups and downs, are a part of life for pre-teens and teenagers, just as they are for adults.
For example, pre-teens and teenagers might feel cheerful and excited some days, and down, flat, low or sad at other times. And they often want more privacy or time on their own. In the pre-teen and teenage years, these emotional ups and downs can happen more often than they used to, and they can be more extreme.
Your child’s emotional ups and downs might happen for many reasons – physical, emotional, social and psychological – and not for any one reason in particular. Often you won’t be able to pin down why your child feels up or down – and neither will your child.
Moods are a sign that your child is experiencing more complex, mature emotions and trying to understand and manage them. This is an important part of teenage development. You have a big role to play in helping your child with this part of their journey into adulthood.
Emotional ups and downs: why they happen
Pre-teens and teenagers go through many physical changes during adolescence.
Your child’s body is changing, which might make them self-conscious or embarrassed – or just make them want more privacy and time to themselves. Pre-teens and teenagers who seem to be developing earlier or later than friends might feel emotional about these physical changes.
The adolescent brain goes through many changes in the teenage years.
For example, brain changes cause your child’s body to make sex hormones. These hormones trigger physical changes, as well as sexual and romantic feelings. These new feelings can be powerful and sometimes confusing for your child.
Also, your child’s brain will keep changing into their early 20s. The section of the brain that’s the last to develop, the prefrontal cortex, is closely connected to the areas responsible for regulating and managing emotions. This means your child might find it harder to manage some of their stronger emotions, and it might seem that they react more emotionally to situations than they used to. They’re still learning to process and express their emotions in a grown-up way.
Social and emotional factors
New thoughts, new emotions, new friends and new responsibilities can all affect how your child is feeling.
Your child is learning how to solve more problems on their own as they move towards independence. Your child is also living in their own head more than they used to and is busy thinking about challenges like friendships, school and family relationships.
Stressful family situations can affect your child’s mood too.
Helping pre-teens and teenagers have more ups than downs
There are a couple of things you can do to help your child have more ups than downs.
The first is recognising the things your child already enjoys. These might be playing a favourite sport, spending time with old friends, listening to or playing music, drawing, creating their own digital content and so on. Keeping up with these activities will help your child feel secure and give your child a base for exploring new interests.
You can also help your child find new activities that challenge them and that help them set new goals and meet new friends. These might be learning a new musical instrument or joining a new social group. Rather than choosing these activities for your child, you might get ideas by listening to your child talk about what they like and dislike.
Helping pre-teens and teenagers manage emotional ups and downs
You can’t stop your child from feeling flat or low. But there are many things you can do to help your child manage the ups and downs.
Helping your child accept ups and downs
It can help your child to know that emotional ups and downs are a part of life. One of the best ways to do this is to let your child know that sometimes you feel flat too.
It’s also important for your child to know that you’ll be there for them when they’re feeling flat or having a tough time. You don’t need solve your child’s problems. Instead, it can help just to say, ‘I can see you’re having a difficult day’. This lets your child know that it’s OK to feel down or flat sometimes.
Staying connected with your child
Staying connected and actively listening to what’s going on in your child’s life will help you pick up more easily on the triggers for their emotional ups and downs. Sometimes casual, everyday activities like driving your child somewhere or watching TV together are the best times for your child to share things with you.
Giving your child space
Your child is developing independence and tackling new things. While this is happening, try to give your child space or time alone to think about new emotions and new experiences. Let your child know you’ll be there if they want to talk.
Holding off on solutions
If there’s a problem, discussing solutions with your child can be great, but your child needs to contribute to the solutions and feel that they ‘own’ them. Your child is also more likely to try the solution if they feel it has come from them.
Also, problem-solving is a valuable life skill, which your child will get better at by practising. By helping your child develop problem-solving skills, you’re sending the message that you value your child’s input into decisions that affect their life.
Working together on coping strategies
Learning to cope with and manage emotional ups and downs independently is one of the big jobs of adolescence. And you can help your child develop this important life skill.
One way to do this is by making a list of ‘mood busters’ with your child. These are things that your child can do to feel better. For example:
- Listen to an upbeat or favourite song.
- Spend time with a friend.
- Go for a brisk walk.
- Pat the dog.
- Get a hug from you.
- Watch a movie with you.
It’s good for your child to have a few options on their list, so they can try different things to see what works best.
Being a role model
You’re still your child’s most important role model. Your child will look to you to see how you cope in tough times. Think about how your child sees you working through problems and using coping strategies.
More than moods: when pre-teens and teenagers feel down all the time
Sometimes, continually feeling down or flat can be a sign of something more serious.
Pre-teens and teenagers can feel down for minutes, hours, days or much longer. If your child seems down, flat, irritable or sad for more than 2 weeks, or if you notice moods are stopping your child from getting on with their usual daily activities, this could be a sign of a more serious mental health problem.
If you’re concerned about your child’s emotions and behaviour, it’s important to talk with your child and to seek help from a mental health professional. Your GP can help you find the right person.
Most pre-teens and teenagers with mental health problems recover well if they get treatment, particularly if they’re treated early.
Your child might like to call Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800. It’s a free, confidential, anonymous telephone counselling service for young people aged 5-25 years. Kids Helpline also offers webchat counselling and email counselling services.