Often I meet parents who are worried, sad, and even confused about their child’s mood. They feel like they can’t keep up, or they don’t understand where the mood changes are coming from. This leads to more frustration and feeling helpless. A good place for families to start is with mood tracking. Mood tracking is simply keeping a record of the child’s mood in the form of a word, journal entry, number, or other standardized system.
Each child is different. Some may need to track their mood a few times a day – morning, afternoon, and night. Others can track just once per day. The idea is to help the child communicate how they’re feeling to their parents and other professionals (school social worker, psychiatrist, therapist, etc.). It seems best to check in at least once per day, and review over the course of a week. You may notice patterns in mood, hopefully helping to pinpoint difficult triggers.
This allows the child to feel more understood and helps parents feel more connected and helpful in their child’s treatment. Understanding one another brings peace and closeness. Many kids enjoy tracking on their phone, whether it be by using an app or in a note format. Using colorful journals or paper to track can be helpful for those who like to use artistic expression.
Mood tracking is particularly helpful with kids experiencing intense emotions, suicidal ideation, or those who are struggling with self-harm, but it can be a great tool for any family. This can be handy for kids who are opening up to a professional, but struggle to open up to their parents, or vise-versa. It can also be helpful when beginning with a new professional.
I encourage parents to work closely with the professionals in their child or adolescent’s life. Be an active part of their treatment, because the true change happens outside of the therapy room.
Techniques to try:
- Share the best and worst part of your day. This is good to involve the whole family at the dinner table.
- Help the child create a “1-10 Scale of (name).” Have them agree to share more if their daily number is below a 5. Using a number helps parents get an idea of where their child is at emotionally, but gives the child space. Example provided below.
- Utilize mood tracking apps for those with phone or tablet access. Examples include: Moodlytics, In Flow, iMoodJournal, Happier, and Optimism.
- Encourage children to create a photo diary with captions. Photos can be taken by the child or found on the internet and should represent how they feel.
- Creating an online forum just for mood tracking that parents and professionals can log on to monitor.
- Help your child understand that mood tracking helps parents and professionals help them. If they understand the benefit, they are more likely to be open and honest.
- Start with a list of emotions to encourage proper usage. Are you mad, or are you actually disappointed? Are you annoyed or instead confused?
- Focus on responding appropriately: Use empathy, don’t make assumptions, ask how to help instead of assuming, show appreciation, and express pride in how your child is doing.
- Work together to pick the best time to check in each day. For example, a quick chat after dinner may be more ideal than while rushing to sports practice.
- Ultimately, encourage kids to be creative. The more they make it their own, the more helpful it will be.
1-10 Scale of (name)
10 – Best day ever
9 – Most things went my way
8 – Mostly positive day, had fun with my friends
7 – A few good things happened
6 – Ok day, nothing special
5 – On the edge
4 – Really anxious and nervous
3 – Mostly sad
2 – Very anxious and depressed
1 – The worst day – nothing is going right
If you’d like to learn more about mood tracking, or you think your child or adolescent would benefit from mood tracking, contact Christine Taylor, LCPC at (847) 336-5621 x123.