How To…Handle Adolescents’ Mood Swings And Sibling Fighting

Adolescent years can be a turbulent time for children and parents, reports psychologist Clare Rowe, as teenagers lack the skills and maturity to handle emotional stressors.

Teenage mood swings, which are primarily due to hormonal changes in the body, can be challenging and extremely draining on all family members. Teenagers want their own identity and pull away from their parents, but lack the skills and maturity to handle emotional stressors.

How Parents Can Help Teens With Mood Swings

  • Help your teen understand what is happening on a physical level with their body. Let them know what they are experiencing is normal.
  • Support a healthy lifestyle with diet, sleep and exercise. The majority of teens do not get the nine hours required for efficient brain functioning. A poor diet and lack of sleep will decrease an adolescent’s emotional coping skills.
  • Allow your teenager to feel down. Accept that at times there may be little you can do to improve their mood other than waiting for it to pass. Be sensitive to when your teen might want to talk to you, and offer non-judgemental support.
  • Be consistent in your discipline and expectations. Just because your teenager is struggling through mood swings does not mean you do away with appropriate boundaries and consequences.
  • Move on. Don’t let your teenager’s mood swings alienate you from them by taking it personally.

Mood Swings and Sibling Fighting

Handling a teenager’s mood swings is compounded when there are other children in the house. Sibling fighting continues and sometimes peaks in adolescent years, as children in varying developmental stages find it increasingly hard to relate to each other.

Unlike sibling fighting in younger years, adolescence brings new areas of contention, including the increasing need for privacy, the forging of individual identity and differentiation away from other siblings, and an increased impulsivity and irritability. However, fighting between siblings serves the purpose of teaching children about conflict resolution and how to relate to peers.

How Parents Can Help With Fighting Between Siblings

  • Try to spend time alone with each child. As children reach adolescent years they will have an increasing need for individuality.
  • Try not to take sides. Attempt to teach conflict resolution by having each child state their side calmly and brainstorm solutions. Try and make each child feel heard by allowing them to voice their concerns in an appropriate manner.
  • Establish clear household rules, including no physical aggression or unacceptable language. Enforce consistent consequences for breaking these rules.
  • Demonstrate and model effective conflict resolution in your own arguments.

While mood swings are a normal part of adolescence, parents should always be on the lookout for symptoms that might be indicators of depression or anxiety.

Distinguishing between normal hormonal mood changes and depression or anxiety can be tricky, but parents can watch for the following:

  • Significant changes in eating and sleeping patterns.
  • Withdrawal from pleasurable activities such as regular sports.
  • Withdrawal from social activities and friends.
  • Use of alcohol or other drugs.
  • Neglect of personal appearance.
  • Frequent crying.
  • Persistent lack of energy or fatigue.
  • Frequent absences from school or unusual poor school performance.

If teenagers are exhibiting these symptoms, parents can seek help from a professional. Your family GP is a great starting point for these difficulties.

Clare Rowe is a child and adolescent psychologist in Sydney

Words by Clare Rowe

Guest Contributor