I remember being a teenager and all the things that came with it: The insecurity, the moodiness, the triggers, the pressure. I feel like I was pretty good when it came to controlling my mood swings, but if you asked my mother, she’d tell you a different story, I’m sure.
Seeing my teenagers go through their 50 different moods a day is frustrating as hell to say the least, but it’s made me remember the struggle – I remember feeling like my mood could change on a dime. If I stayed up too late, or didn’t eat right, I would always feel worse, yet couldn’t understand the correlation. When my mother would bring it up, I could feel myself getting angry at her, and thinking she had no idea what she was talking about. How could not getting enough sleep or food make me feel so irritated? Now I know better.
While I try to encourage my teens to get proper sleep and good nutrition, my attempts often go ignored– they don’t want to listen to me any more than I wanted to listen to my mother.
Getting through a teen’s moody phase is tough on them, yes, but it’s tough on parents, too. It’s hard not to take everything they do or say personally. We can know it isn’t really about us, and still feel hurt when they don’t want to open up or ask for help.
I’ve often thought, I make myself so available to them, how can they not take advantage of that? Then my mind goes crazy wondering what I’ve done wrong. Before I know it, I’m are pointing fingers at them, and the two of us are fighting and I don’t even know what we are fighting about.
I talked with Sherianna Boyle, Licensed School Psychologist, and author of Emotional Detox: 7 Steps to Release Toxicity and Energize Joy about how we can best deal with our teens’ behavior in order to make these years bearable for all involved. Let’s face it, time does fly by, but no one wants to spend five plus years fighting and feeling frustrated by their child if we can take steps towards understanding them instead. It isn’t going to be perfect, but there are ways to ease the pain.
Boyle says the first thing parents need to do is to stop taking moodiness so personally, and stop looking at this behavior as a sign of attack or disrespect. She advises to look at your child’s behavior as a sign of reactivity and suggests this:
Your teen is reacting to what is happening both inside and around them.
And a great tool for parents is to take a moment to focus on ourselves, first. Because when we react to the negative behavior of our moody teen, we are being triggered, and they can tell. Boyle makes a valid point, “You may not be able to control your teen’s emotional triggers but you can influence your own. And by doing so, you create an environment which feels safe,” she says.
I know how hard this is, I get caught up in it all the time even though I’ve seen my son respond much better to me when I am not reactive to his moods. And when I’m able to pause and gather myself, I know he is feeling understood, safe, and validated because I’m not flipping out on him. It is possible to draw the line and set boundaries without losing your cool, it just takes practice. Believe me, I still need a lot of work in that area.
I also spoke with Laurie Endicott Thomas, MA, ELS, and author of Don’t Feed The Narcissists!
Thomas recommends trying not to punish your teens simply for making a mistake. When this happens, our kids will go out of their way to shut us out, and hide their problems for fear they will be punished again. And when that happens, their anger can spiral out of control.
Picking fights with our kids over hairstyles or other irrelevant things can be harmful as well. Endicott let me in on a great tool:
Before you confront your child, ask yourself these three things: Will it be bad for their health? Will it be bad for their grades? Will it be bad for their future?
And if your answer is no to all three of these questions, it’s best for everyone if you check yourself, and drop the argument.
Our kids need to know we are on their side – even when they are less than pleasant or treating us in a way we don’t like. When they come to us with something, and we fly off the handle, they don’t feel safe, and in turn, will stop seeking advice or help from us, which exactly what we don’t want to happen.
I’ve been through this with my own son. I can be very emotional and get heated very quickly. He actually told his therapist, when I get mad at him, he shuts down, feels horrible, and gets really angry over tiny things. It was an endless cycle I couldn’t seem to break.
But after taking this advice, because I needed things to get better, I felt a huge shift not only on our relationship, but in the way my son handled his anger and moodiness.
There is hope for all of us dealing with raging teens, and if you are struggling, you are not alone. Hang in there and know one day your son or daughter will probably come to you and ask you for advice about how to deal with their crabby teenage child.