10 Gentle Tips for Dealing with a Moody Teenager

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: 10 Tips for Dealing with a Moody Teenager

Dealing with my kids’ random moody days brought me back to my teen years. I remember vividly how it felt to feel intensely annoyed, irritable, tired and short-tempered for absolutely no reason at all.

Back then, though, we didn’t dive into the “whys” of teen mood swings. We didn’t talk about it. And, no one seemed to jump in to help with a list of solutions or great advice to calm us or help our totally bewildered parents who had no idea what to do or how to navigate the crazy as hell emotional ups and downs of our unpredictable and irrational behavior. Everyone was just left to “deal with it” as a normal part of growing up.

Thankfully, we’ve learned a thing or two since then. By tapping into mounds of expert research along with observations with my own mood-swinging teenagers, I’ve found a few things that really help calm the chaos when you’re living with a temperamental, moody teen. Here are 10 tips for dealing with a moody teenager.

10 Tips for Dealing with a Moody Teenager


Consider the “Why”

Blame It on Hormones

It’s easy to view our kid’s moody or sullen behavior, snarky remarks or irritability as a personal attack and a serious ploy to wear us down to our last nerve, but so much of it can be blamed on their hormones. Their bodies are going through massive changes and growth which has a way of intensifying their emotions.

Take the time to educate yourself on what’s happening in your teen’s brain and body and then, share that information with your teen. The more aware they are that the heightened emotions they’re feeling are normal and expected, the greater chance they’ll have of actually controlling them.

They Want and Need More Freedom 

Another factor that can play into our teen’s erratic moods is their burning desire to seek independence and figure out who they are. There’s a bit of inner turmoil going on within them as they seek (and sometimes fight) for more autonomy, which can sometimes manifest as temperamental and unpredictable behavior. (Remember: If a teen feels suffocated, more often than not, they will act out.)

Keep Calm and Carry On

If there is one important lesson I’ve learned about teen mood swings, it’s that we shouldn’t stoke the fire of their emotions. In other words, stay calm, refrain from saying anything that could potentially fuel the situation and simply carry on. Nothing good ever comes out of a situation when we overreact.

In fact, there have been numerous times my kids have tossed out a sassy comment and I simply chose to ignore it and go on with what I was doing – which, in many cases, worked beautifully. 

Pleeease, Don’t Take it Personally

When my kids first started experiencing those mood-swinging days, I was completely caught off guard and immediately took their moody, smart-alecky behavior personally. Clearly, it was all directed at me, right? Wrong! I quickly figured out that quite often the words coming out of their mouth caught them by as much surprise as they did me.

Trust me, your teen doesn’t hate you. Their goal in life isn’t to make you miserable. They’re caught in the chasm between childhood and adulthood, trying to navigate the road to adulthood, trying to figure out who they are, pleading for (and perhaps demanding) more independence, all while dealing with massive hormone fluctuations. It’s a lot to handle for teenagers.

Give Them Space (and Room to Have a Bad Day)

I have to admit, there were more than a few times I was grateful my moody, snarky teenagers found refuge behind their closed bedroom doors.

After digging down deep for patience (even when I didn’t have any left to spare), their exhausting mood swings left me feeling weary and whiplashed. The best remedy for my kids and for me was to simply give them a little space, a little time to regroup, a little time to think, breathe and decompress after a long day.

Remember also, that our teens need to be given the room to have an occasional bad day. No one is perfect – especially teenagers who have little control over their emotions. (Remember: There’s a fine line between giving your teen room to have a bad day and allowing continual rude or disrespectful behavior, which shouldn’t be ignored or tolerated.)

Take a Look at Their Sleep Schedule

If there’s one thing that can dramatically impact your teen’s ability to handle life effectively and exacerbate their moods, it’s lack of sleep. The reality is 58 percent of high schoolers and 73 percent of middle schoolers are going about their days massively sleep-deprived – and it’s wreaking havoc in their lives.

One mom told us, “My son has such an overloaded schedule, he’s lucky if he gets 6 hours of sleep a night. I can’t help but wonder if sheer sleep deprivation is triggering his mood swings, irritability, and anxiety.”

Sleep and our teen’s ability to cope with life go hand in hand. If your teen is continually moody, take a hard look at how much sleep they’re getting. If you find they’re consistently running on empty, encourage them to make a few changes in their life and make sleep a priority. It will do their body good!

Then, Take a Look at Their Diet

When our teens are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or moody it’s easy for them to grab a juicy hamburger or chicken nuggets, fries and a coke to make them feel better. But our teen’s greasy, go-to snacks and sugary drinks could be impacting their moods far more than we realize. According to a quote by Registered Dietician, Sarah Thomsen, in Healthline Magazine, “Certain foods and nutrients help your brain make chemicals that can impact your mood, attention, and focus, while other foods can zap your energy.”

Your best bet is to encourage your teen to eat plenty of lean proteins, complex carbohydrates (like sweet potatoes, rolled oats, beans, whole grains, and nuts) and lots of fruits and veggies which are high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that nourish the body and have been shown to boost happiness.

Help Them Find Ways to Calm Their Inner Chaos

On those days when my daughter walked in the door after school moody as all get out, she’d grab our cat and escape to her bedroom. It was a comforting coping mechanism that worked for her. She didn’t feel like talking, she didn’t want me to fix anything or console her, she just wanted a little time to herself… alone, with our cat. 

Whether your teen pets the family dog, listens to music, heads to the gym or sits in front of the television to watch the latest episode of their favorite Netflix series, help them find coping strategies that work for them. (Hugs work great, too, if your teen is agreeable!)

Encourage Them to Get Moving

According to a recent Harvard study, running for as little as 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour a day holds the power to positively impact our mood and can even reduce the risk of major depression.

Aside from the profound positive health benefits of getting fit and healthy, when our teens make a commitment to get (and keep) moving, whether it’s high-intensity exercise, such as running, or low-intensity exercise, such as walking, it can add up in good ways for their mood and overall outlook on life.

Speak to One of Their Love Languages… Food

If your child is like most teenagers, they get downright “hangry” when they haven’t eaten, which can definitely spark a moody flare-up. (Seriously, most teenagers need a constant supply of food). Food is the great equalizer – it can soften the blow of a moody outburst, calm a cranky teen and ease tensions when they’re high. And, let’s face it, little can “speak” to a teenager (or take the edge off of their heightened emotions) more than their favorite comfort food.

Dig a Little Deeper

Hormones Aren’t Always the Culprit

Just because your son walked in the door after school in a horrible mood doesn’t necessarily mean his hormones are out of control. Maybe it has more to do with the fact that he failed a test he studied hard for. When your daughter wakes up in a terrible mood and starts picking a fight, it may not be hormones. Perhaps her girlfriend called her to say a guy she’s crushing on now has a new girlfriend.

In other words, our kids need us to use the “mood-swinging hormones” as a last excuse. They need us to dive a little deeper into their lives. They need us to ask questions, ask if we can help or simply be available to listen without assumptions.

Sometimes, it’s Something More Serious

Most often, our kids’ mood swings are totally normal. But according to RaisingChildren.net, “Sometimes, being excessively moody, feeling down or depressed can be a sign of something more serious.” 

If your child seems down, irritable or sad for two or more weeks, or if you notice their moods are preventing them from getting on with their usual daily activities, this could be a sign of a more serious mental health problem.”

Don’t wait. If you’re concerned about your teen’s emotions, moods or behavior, it’s important to seek help from a health professional. Your child’s pediatrician or a general physician can help guide you in the right direction and help find the right person to talk to.

Remember, This Won’t Last Forever

Emotional ups and downs and moody behavior are simply part of normal adolescent development. While it’s not easy riding the crazy roller coaster of emotions with our teens, we need to keep in mind that it won’t last forever and that we play a big part in helping our kids learn to manage their unpredictable mood-swinging days.

If you enjoyed, “10 Tips for Dealing with a Moody Teenager,” here are a few other posts you might enjoy reading:

10 Triggers That Are Setting Your Teen Off Big Time

8 Proven Tips to Soften Mother-Daughter Conflict

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