Mood swings in children


Glum pre-teen boyChildhood is all about change, and learning to adapt to it. And while your pre-teen child has already had a huge lot of change happen in a short amount of time, puberty marks a new, and vital, moment in the journey.

The awareness of what this change means will creep up on your pre-teen. But sooner or later, consciously or unconsciously, they are going to think "I feel different, I look different and I'm behaving differently. What's all this going to do to me?" It's scary, and when you're scared, you can turn moody.

So, it's no surprise that pre-teen children are prone to mood swings. After all, in effect they're still little kids, and they may not yet have the emotional language to express and work through what they're experiencing.

So whacking their little sister, putting on the telly too loud, or stamping their feet while shouting "You don't care about me any more!" might be their way of saying: "Help! This is all a bit frightening and I'm not sure what to do about it."

Pre-teen hormones

On top of this, there are hormones. Sex hormones - especially in girls - start to increase from around age seven. And the brain is the first body part to be affected - this means that long before your child has body hair or breasts, she'll be having mood swings.

And we really are talking swings: one minute your nine year -old will be the sweet little girl she was two years ago, the next minute she's shrieking at you like a full-on teenager. Then, five minutes later, she's back to her Playmobil.

The transition pre-teens are embarking on - puberty - is both physical and emotional. So, just as they're in a state of flux about their bodies, they're also in a state of flux about what their relationship with their parents, and what their family is all about. 

And even if that relationship hasn't changed all that much yet, they're aware that it is going to change dramatically - and soon. Your pre-teen will eventually begin that huge separation, and when they're at their moodiest they're trying out what it means to be separate, by experimenting with behaving differently.

So shouting at mum, which isn't something they've done before, is partly to see how it feels, what happens when they do it, and how we react to it. 

How should you react to mood swings?

The crucial thing for us parents is to be both understanding of where our children are at, and what's behind their behaviour, but also to stick to our boundaries.

Pre-teen children are interested in how far they can go. But, unlike teenagers, they won't push all the way (yet). How we respond will give them important messages about how far we'll allow them to go when they're a bit older.

Think carefully about what behaviour you're going to tolerate because, just as at every stage in parenting, you will reap what you sow.

And remember, if your child's moods and aggression sometimes makes you despair, you're not alone. The Pre-teen Talk board is littered with mums letting off steam and confessing to finding their preteens "utterly vile", "unbelievably unpleasant" and "so difficult I could happily push him off a cliff". Our pre-teens are definitely starting to test us, and sometimes, they're going to push our buttons big-time.

What Mumsnetters say about moody children

  • Today he is very moody: didn't have breakfast, shouted bye from the front door and left. No hugs as per normal. Came home and didn't say hello, went straight to his room and stayed there. Colacube28
  • My just-turned-10-year-old has turned from the sweetest boy in the world, to a seething, smelly, grunty, argumentative teenager. Three years early! CardyMow
  • The least little thing can cause an argument. It is impossible to correct them without it being seen as a criticism. I just want us to enjoy each other, but sadly, it seems we are at odds far too often. Earlybird
  • My daughter is now 12. Sometimes she's a pleasure to be with - an intelligent, funny young person - and sometimes she is a terrible, selfish, unreasonable, tantruming toddler... It's hard to accept that they are growing up and away from us and the process is very tough for both sides. bigTillyMint


Last updated: over 1 year ago