Teenhood and adolescence is a time of great change. Hormonal, physical, and changes in brain chemistry send these emerging adults through a number of ups and downs. Parenting teens requires a high amount of emotional intelligence. We must properly identify, label, and use insight to help teens manage emotions.
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Allow space for the feelings to exist
Emotions are real. And they need space to breathe. If not, they’ll blow up like Anger from Pixar’s Inside Out. Sadness has a purpose and a place in our feelings. Acknowledge the validity of the feelings before trying to help teens manage emotions.
There are more than 3000 words in the English language to express emotion. Help them identify exactly what they’re feeling with this list.
Listen without judgment
Don’t be so quick to respond when your child is telling you how she feels. I know—you’ve been there and done that and don’t want her to make the same mistakes or experience the same hurts. The benefits of age, wisdom, and experience have a place. That place is not in an emotional discussion with your teen. Let her get it off her chest.
I developed this set of Conversation Helper Cards to guide you and your family through difficult and emotional discussions, Use them when you need to give your teen the space to express their emotions.
Related Post: 10 Conversation Starters Besides “How Was Your Day”
Ask questions with sincere curiosity
I’m a fixer. It’s in my nature. And the hardest thing to do when you’re a fixer is to engage without offering a fix to the problem. To effectively help your child manage emotions, let them know that not only are his feelings valid but that you hear him. Asking well placed, open-ended questions helps him develop the tools needed to begin processing the feelings and work toward a solution.
Be truthful and honest about your own feelings
Truth is about facts. Honesty is about feelings. The best way for you to help teens manage emotions is to be upfront about your own.
The 2016 presidential election was an emotional time for our family, but especially for Olivia. And to be honest, it wasn’t that Olivia was inconsolable rather than I had no consolation to offer. I too was hurt, confused, and angry. I was having a hard enough time managing the emotions I had. So when she asked me what to do, I told her the truth: I don’t know. We discussed staying home from school that day and I offered to pick her up if the emotions became too much to handle.
We can’t dismiss our children’s feelings and tell them to “suck it up,” when we’re struggling too. Seeing that parents have trouble with emotion too can validate their own feelings.
Reframe when appropriate
Once the feelings have had space to breathe, a discussion has been had, and processing has begun it’s time to address them. Sometimes the emotion itself is needed to address the stress—like when Sadness gives you a good cleansing cry. Other times the energy devoted to emotions should be redirected and refocused into other actions.
As awful as it may sound, Olivia was able to redirect her emotions from the election by providing grief support to her other classmates because they lost a classmate a few days earlier.
The process to help teens manage emotions is complex. But these simple strategies can help you get started in the right way.
What ways do you help your teens manage emotions? Share your successes in the comments below.