Does it feel like you never know which emotion your teenager will show at any one time? Can the emotions switch within one conversation? It is hard to know how to respond to the emotion – should you respond to the anger, the sadness, the frustration, or the despair? How do you respond? Will the emotion change by the time you catch up to it? Just as you define it in your head, will it be the same as you defined it.
Adolescence is a time period filled with such change that forces teenagers to learn how to manage their emotions. Most adolescents feel like they are in a roller coaster and sometimes that roller coaster is fun to ride on. But sometimes that roller coaster starts to pick up speed and get faster and faster and might feel out of control at times. When that roller coaster gets out of control, teenagers do not know how to manage their emotions and feel overwhelmed. The question then becomes how do you control the emotions you pick up as the roller coaster comes whizzing past?
When our children were young and had a challenge, it seemed easy to resolve the issue and give a reassuring hug. The reassuring hug sometimes can help with a teenager. But many will not want the affection. Now we have to help teach our teenagers how to manage their overwhelming feelings. Managing feelings is one of the most important skills we can learn as teenagers.
Some steps to help your teenagers manage their feelings include:
- naming the feeling they are having;
- accepting what they are feeling;
- expressing the feeling in appropriate ways; and
- finding a way to take care of themselves.
Many adolescents need the space to help them to talk about their feelings. As parents we can help them to vent about their day which includes giving their feelings names and labels. Explaining to them that everyone feels frustrated, lonely, sad, angry, depressed, hurt, and much more. If you can allow them to express their feelings, they can learn that having the feelings and talking about what their experiences are will provide some relief. Remind them that it is ok to feel what they are feeling. They can also express themselves by writing, exercising, drawing, playing an instrument, taking a walk, running, listen to music, or choosing an activity that matches their personality. Whatever the activity it should be something that helps your teenager and doesn’t hurt him/her or anyone else.
Parents often wonder how they can be most helpful during emotional roller coaster time periods. The following are some helpful strategies:
- Using non-judgmental language when speaking with your adolescent.
- Avoiding all-or-nothing thinking and accepting there might be some gray area.
- Facilitating your teenager’s independence. Provide support but do not rescue and resolve any issues.
- Provide choices and limits.
- Provide firmness and gentleness.
- Display acceptance and hope.
- Validate by paying attention, clarify your teenager’s thinking, normalize your teenager’s feelings, be empathic. If you feel it might be helpful, you can use self-disclosure.
- Take care of yourself.
Expressing genuine interest in your teenager by listening and not asking many questions will be the most helpful to gain their attention and trust. Your teenager will feel better about sharing his/her emotions if s/he feels that you are a safe haven. This doesn’t mean that you should be a punching bag and allow your teenager to take out his/her feelings on you. It is appropriate to set limits on his/her rude behavior while expressing your concern about his/her emotions and situation.
You and your teenager can survive the emotional roller coaster of adolescence. Teaching and guiding them to learn the skills to manage their emotions will be helpful for not only adolescence but for the rest of their lives.