By Ashley Hale, MSW, LSW, Courier & Press, Dec. 6, 2016 –
The teenage years can be very difficult for both teen and parent. It’s a time when the child becomes bombarded with many changes.
Your teen may be starting a new school, taking on more difficult studies and more extra-curricular activities, facing more intense peer pressure, and making new friends. Hormones and bodies are also changing, causing heightened emotions.
Teens are often described as moody, but we have to remember that all of these emotions can be confusing and turbulent. When an emotion intensifies, the child may feel like something is wrong with them. As a therapist, I have had countless teens sigh with relief after I explain that it’s normal for them to feel angry, sad, or whatever the presenting emotion may be.
Anger is a common emotion around this developmental age because it’s the “umbrella” hovering over various other emotions such as fear, frustration, helplessness, rejection, sadness, and others.
It is tough for us to watch our children struggle. We would rather suffer these emotions for them, but we can’t. However, there are some things we can do to help them gain self-control and avoid damaging behaviors.
Not all strategies work for all children, and these are solely suggestions. Please remember that just like walking, talking, and toilet training, the regulation of emotions is a learned behavior that takes time.
- Be present and supportive. Don’t minimize your child’s feelings (even when you don’t agree). Normalize their feelings and let them know it’s okay to feel what they feel. Avoid the words “should” and “ought to.” Provide stability and consistency.
- Encourage discussion and discourage bottling of emotions. Avoid statements like “Don’t be angry” or “You shouldn’t be sad about that.” Encourage them to talk when they are ready. Praise their efforts to control their reactions. (i.e. “You are working very hard at controlling yourself and I am proud of you.”)
- Help your teen process the emotion. Assist them with labeling an emotion and what may trigger it. Teach problem solving skills. Help them identify their warning signs and teach calming strategies to put in place at that time.
- Teach and model appropriate coping skills. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. State how you are feeling and brainstorm out loud how you are going to handle it. Identify negative self-talk and substitute positive self-talk. (Positive examples: “I can calm down.” “It’s okay to make mistakes.”)
Let your teen know that although we are entitled to our emotions, it’s not an excuse to behave inappropriately or in a way that is damaging to others. We must teach our kids that they are responsible for their own actions.
Although you should be as supportive as possible, it’s necessary to set consistent limits. Use those opportunities as teaching moments. Remember that it’s vital to feel emotions rather than suppress them. Teens must learn to be self-aware and able to manage themselves.
The absolute most important thing you can do is be an encouraging supporter and love them through it. The teen years are a struggle and new emotions are scary, but these challenges can be balanced by providing the teen with appropriate guidance and a safe person they can confide in.