When Crying Gets in the Way
March 21, 2016
Cone Health Center for Children
Question: Over the last several months, I have noticed my 12-year-old daughter being moody much of the time. She is also not as obedient as she once was and cries over the least little thing. I am assuming that some of this is normal? I am trying to figure out the best way to handle this. Please advise.
A certain amount of angst can be character building! Too much can be detrimental. You’re right to be concerned. First, great job monitoring her behavior and noticing changes. I can tell that you really care for her. Some of this behavior might be considered normal (whatever that means) for an individual approaching puberty.
What was going on in your daughter’s life when these behaviors started? Is she reacting to a significant life stressor? If so, consider treatment. Has there been a recent death in the family or has she lost a close friend? In that case, make sure that the treatment you seek is trauma-informed. (Your therapist will be able to tell you if they have training in trauma-informed therapy.)
Regarding obedience: What does discipline look like in your home? She might look to you as a friend, but she will learn and grow the most given consistent, strong boundaries and natural consequences to her behavior. For example, if she doesn’t take her dishes to the sink, it follows that she can’t eat dessert until her dishes are cleared. Clarify rules and expectations with her when she’s feeling calm and before she’s “in trouble.” What happens when she does something well? Praise good behavior to encourage her, making sure to be specific about what you saw her do that was positive.
Crying at the drop of a hat can be a sign of depression. Is she sad most of the time? Has she stopped enjoying activities she used to enjoy? Sleep or appetite changes? Changes in energy level? Does she call herself a failure? Is she having trouble concentrating? If she has any of these symptoms in addition to crying easily, see your pediatrician or counselor right away—she might be depressed. There is very good treatment for depression in tweens that may include a counselor, a doctor, or both.
Help her to talk about her feelings instead of reacting by crying. Validate and help her name her feelings. For example, “I see that you’re upset, that makes sense that you feel that way.” Remember, it’s actually OK to cry sometimes!
The best litmus test for determining if her behaviors are abnormal is to consider how these behaviors are affecting her life. Is she moody sometimes, but maintaining good grades and still attending social events? Or have her grades plummeted? Is she isolating herself more and more? If her moodiness and behaviors are keeping her from doing the things she wants (and needs) to do, then consider getting professional treatment. Her pediatrician should be able to make a good recommendation.
This article first appeared in Piedmont Parent magazine.