If you are raising a teenager or even a pre-teen, chances are that you have had your fair share of slamming of doors, rolling of eyes, stamping of feet or even an occasional throwing of objects across the room to highlight their various moods. Sometimes, it will be accompanied by a “leave me alone” or “fine” or my personal favourite “whatever”, often shortened to “whatevs” or even “tevs”.
In some cases, these may seem like justifiable reactions but a lot of the times, it can feel completely unwarranted and dramatic. And when it feels like all you are trying to do is communicate and your child is just being sullen and disagreeable, tensions can rise, tempers can flare and both parties are left feeling frustrated and annoyed. Punishments are doled out, which only increases the resentment and the attitude.
The truth is that every parent and child goes through this phase. Each of us have had mood swings and behaved irrationally towards our parents in our growing up years and today, we have to deal with our offspring doing the same to us. Mood swings are a normal, characteristic development at certain stages of a child’s life and while it can be frustrating to deal with, it doesn’t make your child a bad child and your inability to cope with the situation doesn’t make you a bad parent. So, while you can’t cure your child of her mood swings, you can find ways to work through it and more importantly, help her through it.
Be empathetic and understanding
Put yourself in their shoes. Children today have a lot on their plate. The academic pressures they face have increased. They have to balance school work, extra-curricular classes and homework on a daily basis. They need to negotiate their way through peer dynamics and drama. They are often left feeling overwhelmed and lost.
Let them know you’re there for support
Instead of reacting to their tone of voice or attitude, try and understand the emotions behind the attitude and what is causing the behaviour. Don’t be mad at her for her mood swings, offer her support instead. Talk to her about what is bothering her and how you can help. If she chooses to push you away and not talk to you about it, leave her be. But, let her know that you’re there for her if she wants to talk about it. “I understand that you’re not in the mood to talk about it right now, but I’m here if you feel like talking.” Later, when you are a bit more relaxed, maybe watching TV together or engaged in some activity, you can casually ask her again, if there’s something that has been bothering her. Children often find it easier to talk about things when they are involved in another activity.
Set your boundaries
Define acceptable and unacceptable behaviour for your child. While it’s important to be understanding, it’s equally important to set your boundaries. Your child will test your boundaries. He will want to know how far he can push the limits. And it’s up to you to draw those lines. If you allow your child to use bad language or a rude tone of voice in the early years, he will deem it to be acceptable behaviour. So, draw those limits for yourselves and consistently stick to it. Pull him up every time he crosses the limit, no matter what the situation. “I understand that you are upset, but talking to me in that tone of voice is unacceptable. We can have this conversation when you are calmer and are able to talk to me without yelling at me.”
Stay calm and don’t criticise
Avoid being judgmental and over-critical. Chances are that your child is being completely irrational and is overreacting to the situation. But, that’s okay. Stay calm and resist the urge to criticise their reaction and handling of the situation. Don’t get dragged onto their emotional roller-coaster. If you are sarcastic or critical, you only feed their ‘the whole world is against me’ syndrome. If you lose your temper, the situation can escalate into an unnecessary power struggle. Stick to being sympathetic and understanding. It takes the wind out of their sails and gives them no reason to keep ranting against the world. It makes them feel like you are in their corner and thereby, makes them willing to listen to what you have to say.
Play with your children
When your child is in a bad mood, suggest playing a game together. It automatically lifts spirits and helps them to relax and calm down. Physical exercise also releases endorphins that help mood swings.
Observe your child and be aware of factors that can cause his mood swings. Some children get irritable when they are hungry or sleepy. Others need some space to themselves and a quiet corner to unwind at the end of the day. Talk to your child about things he can do when he is feeling low or out of sorts. Help them find a quiet corner to read a book, listen to some music or work on an art project.
When it feels like you are fighting almost every single day and can’t deal with it anymore, remember that you are not alone. Talk to other parents and share your experiences. You will find that most of them have either gone through or are going through a similar situation. So, don’t lose heart. This too shall pass. And on a really bad day, feel better knowing that your grandchildren will someday, have mood swings too.