Kids' moods can change in a flash -- she's happy, then bored; cranky, then sweet.
What's up with that, and how can you help her learn to manage her moods in healthy ways so she makes healthy choices?
No matter what your child is feeling, your first job is a parent is to empathize. "Let your child know that you care what they are feeling and you have a sense of what they are feeling," says Carl Pickhardt, PhD, a psychologist in Austin, Texas, and the author of Surviving Your Child's Adolescence.
When something is bothering your child, it's natural to want to fix it. Though it can be tempting to try to soothe sadness with ice cream or cookies or distract them from anger with TV or a video game, resist that urge. Junk food and screen time don’t take the edge off of feelings and can cause unhealthy weight gain.
Unless your child is experiencing a true crisis, it's usually better to let her figure out her own solution to challenges.
It's about helping your child learn a key skill: How to bring herself back up when she's feeling down, says Pickhardt. And teaching her how to do that it in healthy ways.
Tell your child that everybody gets sad or mad or upset sometimes, but you don't have to stay that way for long or turn to unhealthy behaviors like eating junk food or vegging out on video games to feel better. Let them know this, says Pickhardt: "You have what it takes to be happy. Let's talk about some ways that can happen."
Sadness. This is a normal emotion we all feel from time to time. As the parent, it's important to acknowledge that and to find out what's making your child sad, says Los Angeles psychologist Lisa Firestone, PhD.
"We don’t have to solve the problem, whatever it is, right away or make their sadness go away," she says. "The skill we want our children to develop is to be able to identify their feelings and to be able to tolerate feeling them."
That means helping your child put names to his feelings. "When Joey wouldn't play with you at lunch, I bet you were sad," for example.
"If we can name a feeling, we can tame it," Firestone says.
Teach your child that sometimes when people feel sad it may make them want to eat unhealthy foods. Explain that when they are done identifying their feelings, they can make healthy choices to feel better. Then work together to find something that will make your child feel better.
Suggest doing something active, like taking a nature walk together or dancing to music in the living room. Explain that getting moving will help you both feel better. When you lead the way, kids are likely to follow your example.