Coping with teen mood swings: An essential guide for parents

As your child hurtles into adolescence and their teen years, you can be carried along on their emotional rollercoaster on a ride you weren't quite prepared for! Biological shifts, hormonal surges, and intense emotions create quite the journey. How can you ensure you and your teen emerge from this journey in one piece?


Understanding the changes

During adolescence, which typically occurs between the ages of 10 and 19, substantial biological and hormonal changes happen and bring with them some pretty intense emotional swings. These are a natural part of your teen's development, which you can expect during this time. It can also be a bit of a shock to you – their poor, unsuspecting parents.

Puberty triggers a surge in hormones, including oestrogen and testosterone, leading to mood swings, increased irritability, and heightened emotional responses. Changes in the brain during adolescence, specifically the part responsible for decision-making and emotional regulation, also contribute to impulsive behaviour and volatile emotions. Throw in social and peer influence, heightened sensitivity and strong stress responses, and you have quite the melting pot for emotional upheaval. 

Mood swings are typical in this age, to be expected, and it's something we have all been through and experienced for ourselves as adults and in our adolescence. While the emotional swings are normal, it's essential to understand and address them for their well-being and yours!

What helps?

1. Open communication

Make them comfortable and safe for open dialogue with you. Let them talk about how they're feeling to you, listen actively, and validate their perspective without judgment. Remember to underestimate the power of non-verbal communication, such as body language and facial expressions, in helping with understanding.

2. Create a supportive environment

Schedule regular, consistent activities together, a weekly game night, a shared meal, a weekend outing, or watching Dr Who to strengthen connections.

3. Show emotional intelligence

Help them identify and understand their emotions by modelling healthy expressions of emotions yourself. The best way to help them feel and express their feelings is to show them how you deal with and regulate your own. You could share your own experiences or stories. Asking open-ended questions (ones that don't invite a simple yes or no answer) to help prompt them to reflect on how they are feeling and to understand the underlying factors.

4. Encourage healthy coping mechanisms

Help them develop positive ways to manage stress and intense emotions by encouraging them to engage in activities they enjoy, like sports, art, music or other hobbies. Again, please consider the power of modelling this behaviour to them. If they see you use these strategies, they are likelier to use them.

Examples of healthy coping strategies:

  • Taking slow, deep breaths to calm the nervous system.
  • Mindfulness practice and meditation help them stay present and manage stress.
  • Regular physical activity, whether sports, dance, or yoga, helps release pent-up energy and reduce stress.
  • Encourage creative outlets such as drawing, painting, or writing to help them express themselves and process their emotions.
  • Writing down thoughts and feelings in a journal.
  • Music can have a powerful influence on mood. Please encourage them to create playlists that help lift their spirits.
  • Spending time outdoors, whether walking in the park or a garden, can be calming.
  • Encourage them to share their feelings with a trusted friend, family member, or therapist to gain support and perspective.
  • Having a consistent daily routine helps everyone! It provides stability and predictability, which reduces anxiety.

It's contagious

The most effective positive influence on your tween or teen is you! You can significantly impact your child's emotional well-being by being mindful and conscious of your emotional responses and modelling healthy coping mechanisms.

Humans are social – we naturally pick up on and mirror the emotions of those around us. We call this 'emotional contagion', meaning that if you can remain calm in challenging situations, your child will more likely absorb this emotional stability.

You are their role model for emotional regulation and resilience. By staying composed in stressful situations, you show them effective coping strategies they can learn from and adapt to use themselves. Show them the importance of self-care by looking after yourself and your needs and wants. 

This may not always come quickly – your adolescent child knows how to push your buttons! Have realistic expectations of yourself as well as them. Whilst remaining calm is the goal – you won't always get it, so have patience with yourself and your tween.

Puberty plus (peri)menopause – the perfect storm

It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that menopause is a time when the reduction of oestrogen and progesterone levels can impact neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin. These hormonal changes contribute to fluctuations in mood, often leading to mood swings, irritability, and emotional ups and downs for those experiencing menopause.

When there is someone in the house going through adolescence, there is often someone in the house also going through menopause, leading to a perfect storm of mood swings! Don't feel you have to manage this one on your own. This is a time when open communication within the family can be particularly crucial.

If you find your teen's emotional swings too overwhelming, counselling can help. It's essential to look after yourself this time, and counselling for parents can help you find the support you need. Remember that seeking professional help is a proactive step, not a sign of weakness. 

I work with parents to help them understand and manage their feelings and develop coping strategies. I will help you to see the parenting wood for the trees and help you recognise that you’re just the parent your child needs.

If you are struggling to cope with how your child is behaving and how that is making you feel, check out my profile to learn more about how we can work together and get in touch with me by clicking the ‘email me’ button below.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Seaford, East Sussex, BN25
Written by Jennifer Warwick, MSc Psych, BACP Registered | Counsellor and Parenting Expert
Seaford, East Sussex, BN25

I am a BACP registered counsellor working online. I work with people who struggle to balance work, home and family life. People constantly rush, looking after others over themselves and are exhausted.

I specialise in supporting parents and carers as they navigate their child's tween and teenage years. Contact me for an introductory chat by phone.

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