It’s natural for your tweens and teens to have more mood swings during the pandemic—but there are ways you can help.
Teens and pre-teens have not been exempt from feeling the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve missed school, struggled with remote learning, and missed many social engagements that mark a traditional childhood. Their routines have been upended in a way that could affect their day-to-day moods and cause your teenager to have mood swings.
Parents might feel frustrated when they see their child struggle through bouts of sadness or anger. But they shouldn’t feel helpless. There are ways to effectively reach a moody child, according to Wendy Nash, M.D., senior child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Child Mind Institute.
How to Handle Teenage Mood Swings During COVID
Have casual conversations with your teen about their mood.
The key is to start by talking to them—but do it informally. “It’s about how you communicate. Do it in a way that’s nonchalant and not intense,” Dr. Nash says. A casual conversation is more likely to get a child to open up because they won’t feel as pressured and put on the spot.
In fact, Dr. Nash even recommends eliminating eye contact to help keep the conversation loose, yet effective. “For many of the teens I work with, having a parent look them in the face and tell them something can be very embarrassing,” she says.
When initiating a conversation, consider timing. Check in with your teen when the time is right- when no one is arguing and everyone is calm. You might only get a few short responses to your questions, but those few words can say a lot.
When you ask your child how he or she is doing, “be open, validating, and curious,” Dr. Nash recommends.
Show your teenager you can relate.
“There’s a tendency for parents to sometimes tease a moody teen, but that only adds fuel to the fire and is invalidating,” Dr. Nash says.
Natasha Beck, Ph.D., a child and family health expert and founder of Dr. Organic Mommy, adds that it’s helpful for parents to remind their child that they, too, are experiencing similar struggles related to the pandemic.
“Most of the time during COVID-19, it’s about trying to find a way to relate to your child,” Dr. Beck says. “Let them know that you also miss seeing your friends, having a structure and routine. Having this empathy starts the dialogue in a non-combative way.”
Find small ways to help uplift your teen’s mood.
After the lines of communication are open, try incorporating solutions that can help mitigate future teenage mood swings and keep your child uplifted. They have been missing a lot of socialization opportunities, so it’s important to try to keep them connected with their peers as these voids continue.
“Try to find opportunities to do things that reinforce the teen’s identity,” Dr. Nash says. “If they are into a certain sport, is there any other way to do it? I recommend getting them outside with friends. In the New York City area, sledding is great. Or, they might need a ride somewhere. They need, as much as possible, a safe way to see their friends. A small investment like this can improve a child’s mood for the day.”
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Teenage mood swings are normal, but Dr. Nash recommends parents watch for signs that may require professional help, including:
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Academic decline; a drop in grades
- A change in demeanor; not smiling or laughing as much.
- Lying often about assignments, school work, etc.
- Crying often and any talk of suicide
Additional resources for parents
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- Mayo Clinic: Teen Depression
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Adolescent Depression Screening
Barbara Russo is a freelance writer who holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from the City University of New York. She enjoys playing guitar, following current events, and hanging out with her pet rabbits.
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