One of the best known issues faced by parents with children heading towards puberty is the impact on moods and emotions their hormones can have. I have only experienced this with girls but I know that boys can be subject to violent mood swings.
My daughter has never been hugely even tempered but we could clearly see from about the age of nine that she was beginning to suffer from hormonal swings. She also began to need to use deodorant for the first time and began to feel embarrassed about showing her body in public.
It can be extremely hard as a parent to see your small child begin the slide towards puberty with all its attendant problems and challenges. Dads often struggle as they see their little girl begin to sprout womanly curves and foresee a future of worry and danger ahead.
It is not easy, there is no doubt; and a child on the verge of tears, sulking or anger over the slightest thing is extremely challenging. There are however some things which can really help so here goes:
1. This is the biggest one so if nothing else sinks in then this is it: Force yourself to rise above it! There is nothing more effective to help to diffuse the situation than this – nothing. Imagine a scenario with a moody teenager or pre-pubescent responding to another (possibly) imagined slight with imminent tears or anger.
Your instinctive response (believe me I know!) is to snap something along the lines of; ‘Oh for crying out loud, what’s the matter now? You are so flipping moody, if you think this is worth getting upset over then life is going to give you a big shock’ – and continue in that vein for several minutes!
The child then continues to feel weepy or angry, you feel more and more annoyed and the situation spirals.
The other way you can deal with this is to force yourself to stop engaging with it – it will not be easy but you can do it! In this scenario, the child begins to respond moodily, you go and make a cup of tea, or you carry on and act as though nothing awry is occurring.
Usually what then happens is that the child will manage to get a grip on their feelings, life moves on and you haven’t made it worse – it works just the same way as not responding to toddler tantrums – you try as hard as you can to ignore the unpleasant behaviour so that you don’t get caught in a negative spiral. I promise you that if you can do this, you will reap the benefit
2. Help your child understand what is happening to them. We like the approach of buying an age appropriate book which explains what they may want to know.
We bought one for our daughter when she was ten which talked all about hormonal changes, body changes and periods. She looked at it with me sometimes, on her own sometimes and asked lots of questions! She found it really helpful and I think it helps children feel that they are normal and not alone.
3. Empathise! We have all been there, I certainly remember feeling like a sort of misunderstood Joan of Arc/Sylvia Plath/Jane Eyre kind of figure as a young teenager; nobody understood me and no-one knew what I was going through.
They are also struggling with their bodies changing and that changes the way people respond to them which I know as a girl is sometimes exciting and sometimes terrifying.
Of course we shouldn’t accept horrible behaviour as a consequence of this time but understand that they feel pretty awful at times and need our support.
4. Help them embrace the good things about growing up. Our daughter gets very weepy at the thought of this and sometimes wishes she could stay little. At this point, I always try to talk about all the great things about growing up and the independence you will gain.
Growing up is an adventure in which you get to discover the world and forge the person you want to be; we have to help our children see that as exciting and something to look forward to.
I see it as a parallel with antenatal classes in which I try to emphasise the magic and beauty of that time to balance all the negative things people hear. Teenagers are chock full of potential as well as hormones and we can help them celebrate that.
I guess really that we need to embrace our children growing up too and love the emerging adults they are becoming in all their complex, frustrating, beautiful, moody and idealistic glory.
One day you will be meeting them for lunch and wondering where the time went since they were making you want to tear out your hair. I have made it my mission to try to make the most of every minute I still have my girl close at hand as I look back on almost twelve years of her life and it flew like a heartbeat!
By Suzy Colebeck
What ways have you found help you to cope with the stress of pre-teen changes?