I need to make sense of my teenager's mood swings
Q. Our 13-year-old son isn’t doing well at school and his behaviour generally is poor. He’s withdrawn and sometimes rude. I know teenagers can be moody ‘Kevins’ but we’re worried there may be an underlying problem. A. Pauline Smith, Assistant Head and Special Educational Needs Coordinator at Alexandra Park School in New Southgate, London, has extensive experience in this field. She says an average class of teens is usually ‘irrepressibly loud with lots to say’, which can be difficult for a quieter student at this vulnerable age. If they find it difficult to express themselves, they often respond by being rude when challenged to explain something. That’s par for the stage. But, according to I CAN, the children’s communication charity (www.ican.org.uk), one in ten children have difficulty expressing themselves due to underlying speech and/or language problems. These may not have been picked up at primary school and problems can emerge when language becomes more complex at secondary school.
There’s a key difference between a moody teenager and one with communication problems. A child who’s developed more or less ordinarily until puberty is likely a normal teen behaving badly. If, however, there’s been a history of behaviour problems (not necessarily severe), lack of focus and attention, and difficulties at school, there may be an underlying problem.
Have an honest dialogue with the school. Discuss if there’s been a pattern of problems, which may be more serious as the student gets older. Is he finding the curriculum more difficult? Are concepts and ideas hard to understand? Is he struggling to find words, umm-ing and err-ing, over-using ‘fillers’ (eg ‘thingy’, or ‘stuff’), perhaps swearing?
Other problems may include not responding to instructions. This can be because they haven’t understood what to do, or have missed things out because of poor memory.
He may stand too close to people, stare, use too much physical contact or not like being touched. This may lead to having few friends.
The result is often low self-esteem. Despite generally having intelligence within a normal range, experiencing some or all of these difficulties can make young people feel stupid and worthless. This can lead to being reluctant to tackle tasks, and mood swings.
Ask for a speech and language assessment. I CAN’s website (www.ican.org.uk) offers information for parents and carers of children from birth onwards, including your son’s age group of 11-16 years. This includes I CAN Assessments by an interdisciplinary team of experts.
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My colleague and yoga teacher Victoria suggests this 15-minute relaxation: you need a yoga bolster and a couple of small soft cushions.
Turn off the TV or radio, and sit on the floor. Put the bolster behind your lower back, the short end close to the base of your spine.
Set your phone timer for at least 15 minutes (the time needed to activate your body’s relaxation response). Lie back, gently lowering your spine along the bolster.
Put two cushions under your head and neck. Bend your knees with your feet flat. Place your arms a little away from the body, palms up. Let your jaw, mouth and tongue relax and soften.
Feel your breath moving gently in and out of your nostrils. Notice your abdomen rising and falling.
NB stomach gurgling and yawning are good signs that you are relaxing.