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Mood swings: how to handle emotional changes during puberty

Mood swings: how to handle emotional changes during puberty

Once upon a time you had a carefree little girl who told you (and her teddy) everything. Now she’s going through puberty, you may notice some changes, so we’ve created an action checklist to help you and your daughter navigate them.

Puberty is a turbulent time – for your daughter, and for you. Her moods may change at the drop of a hat and she's likely to flit between wanting to be treated as a grown-up and craving the innocence of childhood. Her changing moods may take her by surprise as much as they do you.

Puberty mood swings are nothing new

According to clinical psychologist and body image author Dr Joana de Vilhena Novaes, this is all to be expected. "Adolescence is a really unsteady time in which unpredictable physical changes accompany the emotional confusion and identity questions that come with becoming a young adult," she says.

She wants to, and is expected to, handle more responsibilities and yet she can often feel as though she is still a little girl. At the same time, she probably doesn't want to admit to being fearful of these new-found responsibilities and her increasing desire for independence can lead her to disagree almost compulsively with anything you may say, simply as a way of claiming differentiation.

An interest in new activities

You might notice she starts losing interest in activities she previously loved and wants to do different things instead.

"My outgoing daughter has suddenly become shy and stopped wanting to do things she used to love, like her dance lessons. I think it's because she feels too self-conscious but I'm not sure if it's coming from her or from somewhere else," says mum Jo.

This is perfectly normal, as Dr Novaes explains. "In the psychological storm of adolescence, taking control (or trying to) of activities that were previously decided for you may feel like a way of stepping up to being an adult and making your own identity stronger. At the same time, it may be a way to control confusing emotional and identity concerns or even impressing a group of friends by showing rebel behaviour."

It can come as a big surprise when your sweet, loving daughter starts having mood swings. Support her through this time of change: be prepared, stay calm and take stock of what she needs from you to cope with each mood.

To protect privacy we’ve changed the names of people whose stories we tell on these pages, but the stories are genuine.

  • 1

    Stay calm

    Quietly assess her mood each day. Does she seem withdrawn, needy or excitable? Respond accordingly, but try not to draw attention to her changing moods

  • 2

    Take each day at a time

    Try to judge what she needs each day. Is it an adult conversation? Or a snuggle with her teddy and a hot chocolate on the sofa? Do whatever feels right to support her changing moods

  • 3

    Share your own experiences

    Normalise what she’s going through, and help her open up, by sharing how you felt during puberty. Talking openly can take away some of the mystery and fear around symptoms of puberty, and could strengthen the bond between you

  • 4

    Keep an open mind

    If she’s losing interest in her usual activities, explore some alternatives. Suggest trying something together or inviting a friend along to make it more sociable

  • 5

    Don’t let her disappear into her shell

    Encourage her to continue with some activities. If she’s determined to stop her old ones, look for new ways that she can express herself, use her body and engage socially. More ‘grown-up’ activities, like yoga or pilates, might suit her

next steps

  • Talk to your daughter and be a good listener. How does she feel about what's going on? Do her own feelings ever take her by surprise?
  • Reassure her everything that's happening is normal, and share your own stories to show you empathise with what she's going through
  • Sometimes she won't feel like talking, so don't push it. Just let her know you're there when she needs you
  • Don't let distractions like your phone or TV get in the way of a good chat when she needs it