How to Deal with a Moody Teenager: 5 Kind Tips for Parents

Wondering what happened to your easy-going, calm, joy-filled child after puberty hit? Don't despair! These simple, kind strategies will help you and your teen survive the angst-filled years.

Cheryl Butler
6-minute read
Episode #597

The teen in your life may leave you continuously scratching your head. She's capable of shifting from super-happy to out-of-control crankiness faster than a NASCAR driver changes lanes. The most frustrating part for parents is that these mood swings seem to come out of nowhere.

I know—I've already raised six teens, and I have two more to go. When people find out I have teens in my midst, they shake their heads, roll their eyes, and take pity on me. "Good luck surviving the teen years!"

Teenagers are fascinating young adults—intelligent, funny, adventurous, and curious. Unfortunately, they often get a bad rap. Society tends to focus on their unpredictable, moody natures instead of all the cool things they bring to the table. That negativity can seep into your life and make you dread interacting with your teen. But if you embrace this time in your child's life rather than dread it, the teen years don't have to be a living nightmare.

5 ways to cope with a moody teenager

Here are five loving strategies to help you cope with the moodiest of teenagers.

It's essential for parents to pay attention to their teen's mood and make sure that there are no signs of depression. Visit the National Institute of Mental Health website for information on teen depression, including signs and symptoms to watch for.

Educate your teen (and yourself) about their emotional development

The start of puberty means young adults have to endure significant hormonal changes. Their bodies are physically developing, but their brains are not mature until their mid- to late-twenties. So, as they're trying to adjust to sudden physical changes, they're also coping with rapid emotional changes. No wonder they have intense bouts of moodiness!

Your adolescent needs to know that mood swings and unpredictable behavior are brough on by normal and natural changes happening to their bodies and minds.

I read an insightful interview with Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, an award-winning professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London, about how teenagers get a bad rap.

Until about 15 or 20 years ago, we just didn't know that the brain develops at all within the teenage years. Until then, it was assumed that teenage behavior was almost entirely down to hormonal changes in puberty. But brain scans and psychological experiments have now found that adolescence is a critical period of neurological change, much of which is responsible for the unique characteristics of adolescent behavior. Far from being a defective or inferior version of an adult brain, the adolescent mind is both unique and beautiful. Teenagers are brilliant.

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, The Guardian

Blakemore also explained that teenagers are often unfairly mocked and demoralized by society. "It's not right," she said. "They're going through an important stage of their development that they need to go through. Most parents don't know that their teenagers are undergoing such a transformation."

It's helpful and vital to let your teen know that a lot of their moodiness is not their fault. This outstanding video, The Adolescent Brain, offers a clear and creative explanation of the amazing transformation within the maturing teen brain, and it's perfect for sharing with your child.  

Back off and let the mood pass

My oldest child was the moodiest of our eight, so there was lots of trial and error with finding ways to cope when she was having a difficult time. I finally found a winning strategy—leaving her alone. My daughter now says that giving her breathing room was the hands down the best way to help her come out of her moods.

Backing off is often the most challenging thing for well-meaning parents to do.

But backing off is often the most challenging thing for well-meaning parents to do. It's our instinct to want to rush in and save our kids when they're feeling down. But truthfully, the best course of action can often be to stand back and let your young person handle things. A little space let my daughter know we believed she could make good choices and had confidence in her judgment. Sometimes, all she wanted was time to herself without her parents breathing down her neck

 RELATED: 7 Ways to Help Build Your Teen's Self Esteem

Encourage your teen to eat healthy for a mood boost

A teen's developing brain isn't the only physical reason for moody outbursts. Poor gut health can contribute to or worsen your teen's moodiness. But healthier food choices mean a healthier, happier teen.

WebMD's How Your Gut Health Affects Your Whole Body explains how the brain and gut interact.

Your brain sends messages all over your body. Researchers believe your gut may talk back. Studies show that the balance of bacteria in the gut microbiome may affect your emotions and the way your brain processes information from your senses, like sights, sounds, flavors, or textures.

The Harvard Health Blog offers some great suggestions for maintaining a healthy gut biome.

  • Eat whole foods and avoid packaged or processed foods high in unwanted food additives and preservatives that disrupt the healthy bacteria in the gut.
  • Instead of vegetable or fruit juice, consider increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables. Frozen fruits without added sugars/additives are a good choice too.
  • Eat enough fiber and include whole grains and legumes in your diet.
  • Include probiotic-rich foods such as plain yogurt without added sugars.
  • To reduce sugar intake at breakfast, add cinnamon to plain yogurt with berries, or to oatmeal or chia pudding.
  • Adding fermented foods such as kefir (unsweetened), sauerkraut, or kimchi can be helpful to maintain a healthy gut.
  • Eat a balance of seafoods and lean poultry, and less red meat each week.
  • Add a range of colorful fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet, and consider choosing certain organic produce.

Learn more about nutrition from Nutrition Diva Monica Reinagel.

Keep calm and carry on

As parents, we set the tone and the atmosphere for our household. If we're cranky and demanding, or we always raise our voices when we want someone's attention, that  negative vibe ripples through the rest of the family. If we're calm and mindful of how we treat others, we set a positive tone and have a much better chance of the rest of the family following suit. 

When your teenager is navigating mood swings, do what you can to be kind, patient, and loving, and to model good coping skills.

When your teenager is navigating mood swings, do what you can to be kind, patient, and loving, and to model good coping skills.

Staying calm was my best defense when my daughter had a moody meltdown. But if I got aggravated and combative, it only made her act out more. So I practiced my favorite mantra, "This too shall pass." I would murmur it to myself instead of showing my frustration, and the storm would eventually blow over.

If you can maintain your calm and remember that this mini-storm of a mood will soon pass, you'll be laying the foundation for a much more serene atmosphere sooner rather than later.  

RELATED: 6 Ways to Be a Calmer Parent

Find some adorable photos of your teen when he/she was a sweet pre-schooler. Keep those photos close by, so when your teenager is an angst-filled nightmare, you can remind yourself of how cute they were. Remembering all the reasons why you love your child can help you weather the occasionally stormy seas of life with an adolescent.

Be present for your teenager

One of the best gifts you can give your child is to be present and in the moment with him.

Often, it seems our teens have no interest in sharing their day with us. They may grumble, grunt, or ignore our requests to learn more about their day. Throw a moody disposition into the mix, and you're lucky if they even acknowledge you're their parent!

When you consistently show up, even a moody teenager will know they can count on you for moral support.

It would be great if our teens rushed home to spill the tea about their private worlds, but that's hardly the norm for teenagers. Make it easier for them by connecting when you see them for the first time at the end of the day. Put your cell phone down when your daughter walks through the door and make eye contact with her. Walk over to her, hug her, and ask her if there's anything she needs from you before you start dinner. Before your son heads off to school early in the morning, make sure you wish him a successful day and remind him that you're looking forward to seeing him after soccer practice.

When you consistently show up, even a moody teenager will know they can count on you for moral support. These genuine gestures let them know you're ready and willing to champion their cause—regardless of their present mood.

Citations +
All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.