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Mood Swings in Children

When children display mood swings, people call it 'tantrums'. But it needs to be understood to rule out the possibility of a disorder. This Buzzle article explains the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for the condition in question.
PsycholoGenie Staff
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
According to studies, 80% of children who experience mood swings right from the gleeful state to the sad state can have five or more behavioral changes that are concerned with inattentiveness, restlessness, and too many movements. They find it difficult to complete a task and are known to intrude or disturb others.

Children in the age group of 5 to 6 years can experience mood swings, but it is a rare occurrence. However, by the time your child edges towards adolescence, severe form of mood swings can occur, which is much more or similar to that which occurs in adults. It has been reported that 1.6% adolescents have gone through severe mood swings.
As children experience and express differently from adults, it often becomes difficult to label mood swings as a disorder. Mood swings are common and natural; being happy, angry or even confused is all a part of growing up. However, when these disturbances in the mood alternate from mania to depression, and in rare cases, it comes with unexplained violent behavior, it becomes a cause for worry.
ADHD or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is one of the most common mental disorders seen in children. The disorder makes it very difficult for the child to perform well in school, be attentive, follow instructions, or finish tasks by himself.
  • Genetic factors
  • Environmental factors
  • Brain injury
  • Excessive consumption of sugar or food additives
  • Hyperactivity
  • Trouble sitting still
  • Inability to pay attention
  • Constant fidgeting
  • Inability to understand others' needs
  • Easy distraction
  • Medications like methylphenidate or amphetamines
  • Education and training
  • Psychotherapy
Alcohol-related Neurodevelopmental Disorder
Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND) is another reason why your child must be experiencing mood swings. It can cause extreme mood swings in children, along with other learning and intellectual disabilities.
  • This disorder is caused if the mother had consumed alcohol during her pregnancy.
  • Difficulty with reasoning and thinking
  • Inability to express clearly
  • Difficulty with memorizing things
  • Have to be taught the same thing repetitively
  • Medications like stimulants, antidepressants, neuroleptics, and antianxiety drugs
  • Behavioral and education therapy
  • Parent training
  • Alternative medicine
OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder is a very commonly seen disorder. However, when severe, it can start interfering with the child's ability to do day-to-day activities.
  • Genetics
  • Brain disorders
  • Decreased level of serotonin
  • Stressful life events
  • Depression
  • Improper parenting
  • Self-esteem issues
  • Fear of contamination
  • Fear of being embarrassed
  • Need for perfection and order
  • Repetitive behavior such as washing hands, checking door knobs, arranging things in a certain way, counting numbers, etc.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety disorder is a bracket term used for mental disorders that cause anxiety, nervousness, and fear. It includes generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, panic disorder, separation anxiety, situational anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Stressful life events
  • Improper upbringing
  • Violent atmosphere
  • Excessive worry
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Insomnia
  • Shortness of breath
  • Inability to stay calm
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy
  • Dialectical behavior therapy
  • Medications like SSRIs and antidepressants
Bipolar Disorder
Sudden behavior change and/or prolonged mood swings in kids is termed as childhood-onset bipolar disorder (COBPD) medically. This condition is characterized by extreme 'high' and 'low' child behavior. These rapid mood swings can be easily experienced many times within a day in a cyclical fashion.
  • Over-responsive sensory stimulator
  • Chemical imbalance in the brain (especially in the neurotransmitters that regulate endorphins)
  • Life-changing experience
  • Family history of mood disorders
  • Family history of alcoholism
  • Extreme moods swings (behavioral cycle is usually a low in the mornings followed up with an extreme high level of energy in the evening)
  • Passive and/or violent behavior
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Persistent sadness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Fidgety nature
  • Restlessness
  • Trouble controlling anger
  • High levels of anxiety
  • Impulsiveness
  • Mood stabilizers
  • Anticonvulsant medications
  • Antipsychotics
  • Antidepressants
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Talk therapy
  • Family-focused therapy
  • Psychoeducation
  • Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy
Other Reasons
One should keep in mind that not all mood swings are related to a disorder. Sometimes, there are many extreme factors at play too. The kind of environment that the child is raised in is also vital to his/her mental health. Children need adequate nutrition in their growing years, any deficiency of which can lead to an imbalance or reduction in energy levels. This generally leads to a lack of enthusiasm in them because of lack of energy or lack of physical health. An unappealing physical appearance or characteristics too, can cause depression in children, leading to sudden mood swings, especially in the company of others. Some children also inherit mood disorders or anxiety from their parents.
Disturbed sleep patterns are also seen as a reason for mood swings. Inadequate sleep or excess sleep, both makes young children irritable and lethargic. A child's mental and emotional health has a direct impact on the way he/she thinks and reacts. Unhappy surroundings, difficult parents, or a difficult learning environment at school, all make a child prone to mood swings.
As a parent or a caretaker, you know your children better. However, it is best to get a diagnosis through a specialist. Mood disorders affect each child differently; hence, no treatment can be the same. An important point to bear in mind is that it is not a disease, and therefore, it has no conventional cure―only management. Alternative treatments like therapy combined with depression and anxiety medication depends upon the frequency, intensity, duration of a child's symptoms, and response to treatment.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only and does not in any way attempt to replace the advice offered by a professional on the subject.