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March 2021

More Than a Bad Day: Could Your Child Have a Mood Disorder?

 

An angry rampage here, a crying meltdown there—being a kid is quite the emotional roller coaster. But as a parent, how can you tell the difference between what’s normal and what’s not?

Pay attention to their pattern of behavior. If your little one gets sad or upset nearly every day, there may be something else going on. He or she might have what’s called a mood disorder.

What is a mood disorder?

Mood disorders mean a problem in your child’s brain is affecting emotions. Doctors don’t always know why these issues develop. Mood disorders can run in families, but they also might be triggered by stress or bullying.

Not all mood disorders look the same. With some, including depression, sad feelings don’t go away. Others can cause anger or a bad temper.

There is also a mood problem called bipolar disorder. In this serious mental illness, children experience extreme mood swings. They go from very happy to very sad.

Signs of a serious problem

Children with mood disorders might:

  • Feel sad, tired, or angry nearly all the time

  • Not enjoy things they used to find fun

  • Have trouble at school, at home, or with friends

  • Sleep or eat more—or less—than before

  • Throw frequent tantrums

  • Have more highs and lows than other kids

Sometimes it’s hard to tell how kids feel, so don’t hesitate to ask. They might tell you they’re sad, or even admit that they’re thinking of hurting themselves. If that happens, seek help right away.

Getting your child help

Every parent wants their child to feel better. With mood disorders, the best thing to do is to ask for support.

Your child’s pediatrician is often the best place to start. You can also reach out to school counselors or other mental health professionals.

The pediatrician or counselor will ask questions about how your child acts and feels. The right treatment depends on his or her specific needs. Sometimes your child’s mood disorder will get better with talk therapy. In other cases, the provider might suggest medicine.

There might be a special training program for parents, too. You can also help by reminding your child that treatment makes life better. Be understanding and patient. And don’t let the diagnosis become the sole focus—find ways to still have fun together as a family.

Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, BSN, MSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rina Lazebnik, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2020
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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