Many of us as parents remember how our younger kids were happy-go-lucky much of the time. Sure, they’d still get upset at times – if they didn’t get what they wanted or had a fight with their siblings, or had to do chores – they might have a meltdown – but as parents we knew what was wrong and after the moment was over (and the chores done/fight resolved) they returned to being their cheerful/high spirited selves. Plus, the promise of an ice-cream/extra story/trip to the beach would usually put a smile on their face.
But suddenly our children aren’t like this any more.
- They act irritably for no obvious reason.
- They seem overly upset about things which didn’t use to upset them
- They might “sulk” or take a long time to get over things
- Things/situations which used to provide them great pleasure no longer make them happy
- We can’t “fix” it with the promise of a treat/fun activity
These more frequent, seemingly irrational and “not easily fixed” bad moods and irritability are not easy for parents to watch (or to listen to!). We often feel annoyed ourselves, resentful and concerned.
The good news is that most of the time, these negative moods does not mean there is anything seriously wrong.
It is normal for children, from the age of around 9 or 10 onwards, to experience more frequent negative moods.
This is because as humans, as we get older, we get more agile and powerful brains. This means we are more capable of:
Evaluating life negatively
Comparing ourselves negatively to others
Thinking about what might go wrong in the future
In addition, we have had more exposure to situations as we get older – which means we get less excited about various things that used to have novelty value.
In other words, preteens are in the process of becoming more like adults. And as adults we have to manage our own stress levels, negative moods and irritability, The promise of ice-cream/playground trips/extra stories doesn’t always help that much when we are annoyed and disappointed and now it doesn’t always help our preteens either.
So now, in a family – instead of there being just one or two people (the adults) who get in a bad mood, we have extra people (the preteens) who are managing their moods too.
So it’s not surprising that family outings, days at home and holidays can be trickier in some ways as the kids get older.
That’s the bad news!
There’s good news too. Preteens and teens growing brains are ALSO capable of additional good moods compared to when they were younger. These good moods come from situations like:
Being more able than younger children to take great joy in their achievements
Being better able to look fruther ahead into the future and have a sense of hope about what is coming up for them
Being capable of developing deeper friendships and romantic relationships – and deriving joy and satisfaction from these things
Feeling grateful for what they have (okay, this one takes a little longer,and a little more training – but it does come!)
So the positive moods will come around for preteens – and sometimes when you least expect it.
What should we do when preteens are in a bad mood? Well that’s the topic for another blog. But here’s the first and vital step – know it’s normal, not their fault, not our fault and make some emotional space for it.
PS, of course some irritability/stress and negative mood in pre-teens is NOT just part of growing up. If you have ongoing concern about the moods in your pre-teen or teen – always get an opinion from a health professional: a great start is with your GP.