Mood swings: how to handle the effects of puberty

  • Age: 13-16 yrs
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Mood swings: how to handle the effects of puberty

Once upon a time you had a carefree little girl who told you – and her teddy – everything. But now she’s going through puberty you may notice some changes so we’ve created a practical action checklist to help you and your daughter handle them.

Going through puberty is a turbulent time – for your daughter and for you. Her moods may change at the drop of a hat and she's likely to flit wildly between wanting to be treated as a grown-up and craving the innocence of childhood. Her changing moods may actually be taking her by surprise as much as they do you.

Teenage mood swings and rebellion are nothing new

According to clinical psychologist and body image author Dr Joana de Vilhena Novaes, this is all to be expected. "Adolescence is a really unsteady time in which unpredictable physical changes accompany the emotional confusion and identity questions that come with becoming a young adult," she says.

"She wants to, and is expected to, handle more responsibilities and yet she can often feel as though she is still a little girl. At the same time, she probably doesn't want to admit to being fearful of these new-found responsibilities and her increasing desire for independence can lead her to disagree almost compulsively with anything you may say, simply as a way of claiming differentiation."

An interest in new teenage activities

You might also notice that she starts losing interest in all those activities she previously loved and wants to start doing different things instead.

"My outgoing daughter has suddenly become shy and stopped wanting to do things she used to love, like her dance lessons. I think it's because she feels too self-conscious but I'm not sure if it's coming from her or from somewhere else. She is 12 and it doesn’t feel right," says mum Jo.

Again, this is all perfectly normal.

"In the psychological storm of adolescence, taking control (or trying to) of activities that were previously decided for you may feel like a way of stepping up to being an adult and making your own identity stronger," explains Dr Novaes. "At the same time, it may be a way to control confusing emotional and identity concerns or even impressing a group of friends by showing rebel behaviour."

It can come as a big surprise when your sweet, loving daughter starts having mood swings. Support her through this time of change: be prepared, stay calm and take stock of what she needs from you to cope with each different mood.

To protect privacy we’ve changed the names of the people whose stories we tell on these pages. But the stories they tell are absolutely genuine.

Action checklist:
How to handle the changes of puberty

Stay calm, don’t panic: take a step back every day to assess her mood. Does she seem withdrawn, needy or excitable? Respond accordingly, but try not to draw attention to her changing moods.

Take each day at a time: attempt to ‘read’ what it is she needs each day. Does she want to have an adult conversation to feel more grown-up – or does she need to cuddle up with her teddy and a mug of hot chocolate on the sofa? Be flexible and do whatever feels right to support her changing moods.

Share your own experiences of the effects of puberty: bring the changes she is experiencing out into the open, normalise what she’s going through and help her to relate by sharing how you felt when they happened to you. Acknowledge how hard it can be when your body starts to change. Talking openly can help take some of the mystery away and remove some of the fear she may have. It might also strengthen the bond of trust and reliability between you.

Keep an open mind on teenage activities: If she’s losing interest in her activities, explore some alternatives together. Suggest trying something together or getting her to invite a friend along to make it more sociable.

But don’t let her disappear into her shell completely: stand firm and encourage her to continue with some activities. Don’t push her if she’s determined to stop her old ones – instead, look for new ways that she can express herself through her body and engage socially. Trying more ‘grown-up’ activities, like yoga or Pilates, may help smooth her transition into young womanhood.

What next: action steps to help

  • Share the Mum Translator with your daughter. It will help her understand that you don't mean to upset her when you talk about friends, diet and her social life and may well improve communication between you.
  • Start a conversation with your daughter about the things she's feeling and be a good listener. How does she feel about what's going on? Does she ever get taken by surprise by her own feelings?
  • Reassure her that everything that's happening is all part of the process. Share your own stories too to help her feel like there's nothing strange going on.
  • Be aware that sometimes she just won't feel like talking – don't push it. Just let her know you're there when she needs you.
  • And so be there when she needs you… Don't let distractions like your phone or TV get in the way of a good chat when she needs it.

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