8 Tips for Dealing with Teen Emotions
Being the parent of a teenager can sometimes feel like an exercise in frustration—or even helplessness. One moment your child is happy and talkative, then suddenly doors are slamming and you’re getting the cold shoulder. Events you consider minor bumps in the road can become monumental problems in a teen’s mind.
Unfortunately, parents often don’t know what happened to sour a teen’s mood. Was it a hurtful Snapchat message? Worries about college admissions? Someone’s Instagram post that showed everyone else having fun? A bad grade on a test? Encountering a bully?
The good news is that there are ways you can help your teen manage emotions, even when you’re not sure what’s wrong.
Here are eight tips for helping your teen weather emotional storms:
Give them space.
It’s natural for concerned parents to want to sit face-to-face with a child and hash out problems. But sometimes teens just need a break—from parents, from friends, and from siblings. Make sure they have a private space, even just a small section of a room, where they can decompress and gather their thoughts.
Understand that anger could be masking other emotions.
Teenagers sometimes think anger is more acceptable than fear or sadness. Parents should let teens know that all of their emotions are valid. Teens who know that they can share difficult feelings with a parent are more likely to constructively work through their problems.
Respect your differing perspectives.
You can imagine how you might feel if, during an argument, your spouse told you that your concerns were “not that big of a deal.” Teens also don’t want their emotions minimized. At this point in their lives, they are very often feeling anxious about their impending independence, and are self-conscious about their changing bodies and feelings. This can make small problems loom large in their minds. While you don’t necessarily have to agree that a minor incident is, in fact, the end of the world, it also helps to realize your teen might truly feel that it is.
You can help your teen release some of the stress of those troubling emotions instead of allowing them to build up and explode. Some effective ways of blowing off steam include exercise (hiking, kickboxing, basketball, etc.), writing in a journal, cooking or baking, and doing artwork. Taking up a new hobby can also help clear the mind and relieve stress. It’s hard to focus on problems and worries when you’re tackling a new challenge, such as trying to remain upright on ice skates, shaping clay on a potter’s wheel, or staying afloat on a paddle board.
Bite your tongue.
If you’re lucky enough to have a teen tell you what’s bothering him or her, try to remain neutral. For example, if you feel your child was at fault in an argument with a friend, do not blurt out your judgment. (“Well, it sounds like you were being a jerk, and I don’t blame him for being angry.”) Instead, give noncommittal responses such as “Mm-hmm” or “I see” to show you’re listening, while also providing space for your teen to work out the issue himself or herself.
Remember that just because your teen is sharing a problem, he or she is not necessarily asking you to fix it. Often, teens (and adults) just want to share what’s wrong without being bombarded with solutions.
Admittedly, it can be difficult to keep your cool when a teenager is screaming at you or slamming doors. However, remember that your goal is not to win an argument, but to help your child deal with his or her immediate feelings and, long term, grow into an emotionally healthy adult. That doesn’t mean you need to nod and smile while insults are hurled at you. But don’t escalate the situation with your own yelling. Instead, let your child know that it will be easier work out the problem at hand if you can treat each other with respect even when you disagree.
Be a role model.
Don’t just tell teens how to deal with troubling emotions—show them. Model good relationships with your partner, friends, and other family members. Let your teen see how you deal with issues, and let subtlety be your guide. If you like to go for a run when you’re stressed, instead of saying, “You should go running; it will really get you out of that atrocious mood,” try casually mentioning, “I’m going for a run to help me relax.”
A mental health problem can sometimes be mistaken for typical teenage angst. Experts say signs you should watch for include sudden struggles with schoolwork, dramatic changes in sleep patterns, self-destructive behavior (cutting class, drinking, excessive risk taking, etc.), and a preoccupation with death. If you suspect your teen might be struggling with something more than a passing developmental phase, let him or her know there are resources available that can help. If your teen refuses to see a therapist, try going on your own to get a professional’s perspective and advice.
Parenting a teen can be a challenge, but incorporating some of these best practices into your interactions can make this phase of life less stressful.
If you have found effective ways of dealing with teens and their emotions, share your tips in the comments.