It’s going to happen: Mood Swing Whiplash. All parents of teens experience it at some point. One minute your teen is hugging you and the next, she is stomping off and calling you “offensive.” What is a parent to do when a teenage mood swing catches you off guard, other than stand there with your mouth hanging open?
1. Keep it short and consistent.
When my daughter didn’t want to go to her piano lesson, she sent me several long texts that explained why she wanted to quit. My replies were short and consistent: “I hear what you are saying. You’re allowed to feel angry, but the answer is no.”
When I got home, she was still upset. I hugged her and said nothing. By doing this, she knew I cared, but the answer hadn’t changed. She started her piano lesson shortly after. That evening, she was practicing away, of her own accord, happy as could be.
The truth is, most of the time, a lecture explaining all our reasons won’t change a teen’s mind. It only causes a teen to tune us out or argue even more. It is possible to validate your teen’s feelings without backing down on what you know is right.
It is possible to validate your teen’s feelings without backing down on what you know is right.
2. Drop it (for now).
There are times when our teens are upset and are beyond reasoning. If you start to sense that their ears are not open, or if you feel your blood pressure rising at an alarming rate, it might be smart to drop it. Revisit this topic later, when the heat of the moment has passed. You can say, “Hey, let’s talk about this after dinner,” so she knows you aren’t dismissing her.
Even though it might seem like just another mood swing, it’s important not to forget about it completely. Continually sweeping things under the rug eventually will result in an explosion.
3. Picture your teen being a toddler again.
We know our teens are going through emotional and physical upheavals during this monumental growth spurt. Similar to when they were toddlers, they need extra sleep, consistent food, exercise, and a lot of grace. And yet, it tends to be easier to give grace to a fit-throwing toddler than to a teen. In our minds, the teen should know better.
And while we need to keep our expectations consistent, their brains and hormones take them on some roller coaster rides that they cannot always control. You can help by taking extra good care of your child’s physical needs. When one of these is out of whack, do what you can to find balance (which sometimes means saying “no” to activities).
4. Have a code phrase with your spouse.
Over time, my husband and I realized it was easier to sense when the other of us was headed into an emotional storm with our teen. To warn each other, we would mouth the words “don’t bite,” meaning: “She is baiting you into an argument and it’s not going to be productive.”
A scripture passage I like to think about in these moments is 2 Timothy 2:23-24: “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.”
5. Say what they CAN do, rather than what they CAN’T.
Teens, like toddlers, like to have choices. Give them two or three choices, all of which you are OK with. This gives your teen some control in the situation.
During the piano lesson argument, I offered this: “Would you rather take piano lessons or flute? Your teacher offers both. Another option would be voice lessons.” She chose to stick with piano, but just having these options calmed her significantly.
6. Visualize yourself driving down the middle of the road.
I love this visual. I literally picture myself holding tightly to the wheel, concentrating on staying in the center while my teen is swerving all over the road. Similar to driving, I have to stay focused and calm, not allowing anyone to push me off the road into a ditch.
Things that help me stay centered include silent praying, whispering instead of yelling, and putting on calming music.
7. Move on to something happier.
When someone you love is upset, it’s easy to be dragged into their wave of emotion. But like toddler fits, I’ve found that most teenage mood swings pass rather quickly. So after you’ve done what you can, instead of sitting around contemplating what just happened, move on to something happier. Make dinner, sing, change the topic, go for a run, play a game—continue on with life. Your message is, “I care about you, and you are allowed to be unhappy. But I’m going to be happy now. Feel free to join me when you’re ready.”
What helps you to navigate teenage mood swings?