**Originally published in 2018, last update: January 2021**
Help, my tween has an attitude problem!
Tween attitude is no joke.
We’ve all been there. You’re all having fun and out of nowhere, bam she turns into something out of The Exorcist. You don’t know what happened. You wonder what you did.
Is it you? Is it her hair? Is her phone glitching? What in the actual f*ck just happened?
If you’ve got a tween, you’ve seen these mood swings.
If you’re not there yet and you still have a sweet little thing. Well hold on and love every minute, cuz it’s coming.
The closer we get to the teen years, she’s nearly 12, (she’s 14 now and it’s the youngest’s turn to start), the worse the attitude problem is getting.
And let me tell you no one is immune. It leaves people running for cover. Holy s*it, it’s like the world is ending.
How can you help get your daughter (or son) and everyone else out of this whirlwind?
Puberty… There’s an excellent chance that this is the culprit.
Here’s one of our favorite puberty books.
Now it’s not just girls. Boys are having a hard time too.
But the one difference is that boys will go through puberty and mood swings with all the body changes and it’s just as real and can be just as intense.
The boys, however, will weather it and come out on the other side.
For girls, they will need to learn to understand it, learn from it and find ways to deal with it because it will continue for them for the next 40 or so years.
While we can’t change the fact that this is happening, we and our tweens can learn to navigate these mood swings.
As much as we want them to stay small and move out already, all in the same moment sometimes, LOL.
With that being said, all of these tips will help both boys and girls throughout their tween and teen years. In fact, I know they help me be less of a cranky pants too.
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So what do we do when parenting your tween is driving you crazy? Let’s dig into how to handle irritable behaviors.
Is your tween getting enough sleep?
Did you know tweens should still be getting 9-11 hours of sleep every night? Even teens should still be getting 8-10.
Lack of sleep is usually a huge factor.
Most aren’t getting anywhere near that.
With after-school activities eating further and further into our evenings.
Homework, social media, internet, video games and tv. Kids are freakin’ tired.
I know when I don’t sleep enough, I am cranky, foggy and dizzy.
That doesn’t help them in school, in sports or in interacting with other people.
So what can you do to help your tween get more sleep?
Set a time for lights out. If your tween needs to be up at 7 to be ready for school, then it’s lights out at 9 if you’re shooting for 10 hours. Not unreasonable for an early tween.
It gets so much harder when it’s still light out and your tween needs closer to 11 hours and you still do evening sports.
But it can work.
If you’re committed to finding what is contributing to the short-temper.
Maybe most nights you continue with an early bedtime and on activity/sports nights it’s moved a bit later.
I know how it is. They end up needing a shower.
They need a snack.
I know, I have three kids.
It can be a pain in the ass.
We did baseball last fall and half the time we weren’t even getting home until after 8.
You either eat dinner at 3:30 or at 9.
If you have a system for those nights to have them in bed as quick as possible it helps.
Try some different things and see what works for your family.
Can they do their nightly reading in the car on the way home? Maybe that’s when they squeeze in a snack.
Maybe it’s a different morning routine to let them sleep a bit longer. Only you know what you can make work.
Maybe they don’t have to participate in a sport or activity at that time of day. Read more on that later in this post.
I’m all for sports and other activities, but do you know how many parents I talk to who sound more like they’re the ones that want their kids to participate? The kids don’t even want to be there.
Now that’s not everybody but what are your options?
Could you do something else at a different time?
This spring my son is playing flag football.
Games are only on Sunday for 1 hour with a 1-hour practice right before the game. And it’s always in the same place.
No conflicts with homework or dinner. No traveling to different cities.
And when you do get home, or the evenings when you stay in.
In our family, I’m not good about being the “screen police” but we found more screen time = more fighting EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
Everyone has their own opinion on screen time.
That’s a personal family choice.
But when it interferes with sleep the answer is easy.
The amount of and the content are up to you.
But if you at least make a time of night that it stops, preferably at least an hour before bed and that it stays off until morning, at least they will be getting a proper night’s sleep.
Are they having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep?
It has made a tremendous difference in our house since my daughter has always had trouble sleeping.
Maybe a white noise machine is an answer?
We have a free one on our android phone called Relaxio. It has 16 different sounds like rain, the ocean, and even traffic.
Blankets like these, offer a comforting hug-like feeling while helping you fall asleep faster and sleep better. Weights differ depending upon body size. They should be no more than 10% of body weight.
Reading or journaling are two great activities that help slow things down before bed.
Are they getting enough physical activity?
The sports they’re in can make or break how they feel about participating.
I think all kids need some type of physical activity. Many schools are cutting out recess at this age.
Physical activity releases chemicals in the brain called endorphins.
Endorphins reduce stress and enhance the immune system.
Stress-related issues in the tween and teen set are on the rise.
Kids who develop a habit of physical activity and remain active throughout their life will also benefit from the fact that endorphins relieve pain and delay the aging process.
What kind of physical activity do they get.?
Is it the right kind for them? Too fast? Too slow?
Team sports and individual sports can be night and day.
I know I hated team sports.
I wasn’t good at them and it made it very intimidating for me.
But when I found tennis, I was in instantly in love. No one depended on me.
I was more in control.
And I was good at it, well eventually, LOL.
For someone who was a skinny little kid who was horrible at sports to have a sport to excel at was a huge boost to my self-esteem.
I began at 10 and played all through high school.
My daughter just started horseback riding.
Her confidence is off the charts now that she has something that’s just for her.
Not having other kids involved can sometimes be good, especially if they’ve been picked on.
Swimming, golf, running, dance, gymnastics, cheerleading or martial arts are some other good choices.
It doesn’t even have to be competitive.
It could be just for the exercise, though I do think competitive sports are good for kids.
Maybe they’re still part of a team and the points from each individual add to the team totals, but the kid can focus on their developing their own skills a bit differently.
For kids who don’t like sports, any activity that gets them moving will benefit them.
A walk with a family member, the dog or a friend is better than nothing.
And often better than anything else since it can offer a way to have 1-on-1 time and talk or just be.
What if they don’t want to join anything?
Or they were participating and now suddenly they don’t?
This might take some investigating?
They may not want to answer or be able to tell you why.
Sometimes it takes time to figure out.
Ideas on this below.
But I know that we’ve had each one of our kids experience this for different reasons. Sometimes we knew why and some we still don’t. We just had them finish their commitment since it didn’t seem to be anything unsafe.
Though I will have to say, we did pull my daughter out of one activity without finding out why because it was so upsetting for her to go.
She insisted she just didn’t like it anymore, but would cry if we tried to encourage her to continue.
It took her two years after quitting and contact with the person long over to find out that she was being bullied.
It just popped up in a random conversation two years later.
Do they need to slow down?
Maybe it’s just the opposite.
Maybe they need to slow down.
As I mentioned earlier, stress and anxiety are a big tween and teen problem.
No one needs to do all the things. Who wouldn’t be stressed out if you were running from one activity to another?
From music lessons, dance classes, jobs and more. Maybe pick one per season.
Or swap out activities if something becomes more important for a time…like tutoring.
Do fewer activities or at least have some quiet time to themselves.
For some, it will be a perfect addition to their evening routine before bed.
For others, in the morning before the day gets crazy will be the best benefit.
Even still maybe in the middle, after school.
After the chaos of being out in the world, before they transition to family time will do the most good.
We recently found this FREE phone app we like
There is an upgrade to a paid version. But we like the free version just fine.
It starts a Check-In about your mood right now.
Then gives you some ideas on which mindfulness session that best fits.
You also have the option of choosing one, say for example if you were going to get ready to sleep or wanted to energize your day.
Maybe a yoga video on Youtube is the answer.
It can also be a nice way to connect with your tween by doing yoga together either at the gym or at home.
Nothing warms up tweens like 1-on-1 time.
If you create this connection now before they get into the teen years it will be an established habit you may be able to continue before they have more opportunities to run off independently.
I’m already getting that vibe occasionally from my daughter.
Like last week when I picked her up from the school dance and she was mortified that I went in to get her instead of waiting in the car. 🙄
Tween attitude at it’s best…worst…whatever. LOL
Are they drinking enough water?
I know when I’m dehydrated I don’t feel well. I’m crabbier, more tired and sometimes my muscles hurt.
Water is vital to every part of our body.
Our cells scream for it, need it to make the most basic functions happen.
When it doesn’t have enough, simply put, things don’t work right.
And that includes our brains.
More hydration = better attitude.
How much water should you drink each day?
Bodyweight divided in half = number of ounces.
Example: 100 pounds = 50 ounces of water per day.
Anything ounces of liquid containing caffeine takes away from that number.
So if all you have is caffeinated drinks you are actually in the negative.
To make sure everyone in our house gets enough water, we have the water filter pictured below in our refrigerator.
This water filter is the same one in a pitcher style.
Although the bigger one doesn’t take up too much room.
I’m still refilling it constantly. Always ready and always cold.
I keep it full and use refillable water bottles to take when we go out.
Sure the kids like having sports drinks but it’s way too much sugar.
In fact, most of our sports teams tell the kids not to bring them.
Often with more sugar than soda and definitely made with dyes.
If all else fails, at least dilute them with water.
If you do use sports drinks, the durable bottles make great, inexpensive refillable bottles that don’t always have to make it back home.
Water is a much better choice.
The kids have always been water drinkers so it’s not “boring” to them like it is to some people.
But if it’s an issue, adding a squeeze of lemon, lime or infused water is a nice treat.
Are they eating right or often enough?
We’ve all seen the candy bar commercials where people aren’t acting like themselves because they’re hungry. You know hangry.
I’m definitely not an expert on nutrition, but I love food.
The right foods in the right amounts can make all the difference in the way our tween’s mood plays out.
Despite what they tell you…”oh I’m not hungry” or “I don’t want breakfast.”
It’s not a good start to the day.
Getting off to school with an empty stomach will make them crabby and it does interfere with learning.
Figure out what works.
Make-ahead breakfasts for the freezer or smoothies might be the answer.
Pinterest is filled with ideas for smoothies and overnight oats recipes. Try a few. Better yet, get your tween involved in the process.
For my daughter who gets moving slowly in the morning.
She eats at school.
It’s a compromise that didn’t come easy at first.
I didn’t like her going out the door without breakfast.
Once I was sure she was eating a good and balanced meal at school, the solution was better than the morning arguments.
It’s not just what, but when.
Carrying snacks with them is another way to be sure they aren’t having that drop especially in the afternoon.
Granola bars or apples work well for us.
This goes for after school too.
They’ve put in a hard day at school.
Dinner is a long way off, especially when they’re eating lunch at 10:30…legit this is when all of my kids are scheduled for lunch.
Eating on the run is sometimes a necessity of this modern life, but every night doesn’t need to be take-out or drive-through.
There are healthy alternatives even if you have to grab and go.
How about ready-made smoothies to go or make your own and use these cool pouches that can be set up and frozen ahead of time. Just take and go.
Does it require extra work?…sometimes.
But often the drive-through lines and the extra time out of the way adds up too.
Besides they’re tweens now…they can help a lot more than they sometimes lead us to believe.
Is it something else like anxiety, depression or…?
Like I mentioned earlier, this can sometimes take lots of small conversations.
Small prompts and false starts.
Sometimes it’s little snippets you piece together and finally figure it out.
They may be resistant to questions and get mad or sad.
Sometimes they don’t even know why.
Maybe something happened, like a fight with friends.
In the car, or at bedtime is actually a great time to get them talking.
Kids will talk when you’re focused on the road, rather than eye to eye.
They will say things when they’re sleepy or better yet in the dark that they wouldn’t otherwise have the courage to say.
Lay down with them. Lay under the stars with them.
It might be good they can’t see you either.
At least you can hide your reaction when they talk about sex or bullies or tell you they are depressed.
It will become easier for them and for you.
Want more ideas on how you can connect?
Try one of these easy ways to make that happen.
Maybe it’s nothing concrete but it’s all those puberty hormones racing around, muddling their little heads.
I know for me, with perimenopause hormones on a roller coaster of their own. and it’s a confusing mind-muddling mess some days.
For them, it’s all new, and it’s scary and confusing and maybe embarrassing.
I know my daughter has mentioned more than once after being particularly crabby, that she had no idea why she was acting that way and it was like watching herself and she just kept doing it anyway.
And then later thought, what the heck just happened.
My son, 10 has said a few times.
“I don’t even know why I feel sad.”
He spent a few months over the winter withdrawing from a bunch of activities and being sad and crabby every day.
Then just as suddenly as it began it was over.
Was it puberty? Was it depression? Anxiety?
We don’t know, but we’re watching.
And all of the ideas here did help, it may not have taken it all away, but they did help.
Yearly physicals are a good time to bounce some ideas off your doctor.
And if you think something serious is going on with your tween, act on it.
Talk to other adults in their life…teachers, coaches, and family friends.
Sometimes they pick up on things you don’t or they’ve seen something.
Maybe your tween is more open to talking to someone besides you.
That can hurt. But so what.
You’re tween’s well being is what counts here.
Did you turn to your parents?
I know I didn’t.
All of these ideas will help.
But keep in mind, so much of it is all about hormones and growing up and learning all about who they are.
And that just takes time.
A FREE printable pack, 10 worksheets to track key habits that may be affecting their moods with the option to track by the day or by the month…also includes a mood tracker and 2 period trackers.
Here’s what a tween reader says…
“I started using the trackers and my mom really likes knowing what mood I’m in and when I’m down we talk it out and she understands me so much more now that she knows how I’m feeling. Thank you so much for the trackers!”
The best thing you can do is to let them know you love them even when they aren’t very loveable. They do that for us…don’t they?
DONT FORGET TO PIN ME!