When my daughter was a preschooler, I remember joking about her future: “If she’s got a 13-year-old’s attitude now, how am I going to handle her when she’s actually a teenager?” Her emotions seemed bigger than she was, far too big for her tiny body. Surely she would be able to handle them better when she was older!
If only it were that easy, right? Parents of teens know that as our children grow, so do their feelings. Add to that the pitfalls of puberty, friendship drama, and kids who are desperately trying to be adults, and we have a minefield of feelings to navigate.
We might sometimes wish to return to the simplicity of toddler tantrums, but we must instead forge new ground as we walk alongside our kids with their teenage emotions. But how?
1. Keep your feet on the ground
Your teen experiences a roller coaster of emotions, sometimes on a daily basis. As tempting as it can be, don’t board that ride with them. Keep your feet on the ground, keep calm, and be there to guide them when their train gets back to the station. It might mean taking a deep breath or even leaving the room when your teen pushes your buttons. If you can maintain your calm while they are spinning out of control, you’ll be better able to speak into their lives when the dust has settled.
2. Walk them through it
When we keep our calm, we are better equipped to help our teens process and deal with the many things they are feeling. A few simple steps help them to sort through and respond appropriately:
- Name it. What exactly are they experiencing—anger, disappointment, sadness, fear? Overwhelming emotions can feel similar. Encourage them to name what they are feeling, and look for what is behind it. Identifying and understanding an emotion can take away some of the stress behind it.
- Claim it. Emotions aren’t wrong, and our kids shouldn’t be ashamed of them. It’s OK to be upset when a friend lets them down, to be disappointed when they study for a test and don’t do well, or even to be sad for reasons they can’t quite identify. (Hello, hormones!) In fact, identifying and feeling feelings is healthy and important. But…
- Don’t blame it. Emotions don’t make someone do anything—our teens cannot relinquish responsibility for their actions. Help them to identify healthy ways of handling their emotions and exercise self-control. This does not necessarily mean we as parents must try to solve every problem in the heat of the moment. We just need to make sure we are talking to our kids, both in these emotional times and at calmer moments, about taking responsibility for their actions and choosing not to let their emotions rule over their heads.
3. Be a role model
A positive example shines the best light for our kids’ paths. Look for healthy ways of handling and expressing your own feelings. Let them see how you are walking through the steps listed above. Apologize when you mess up—because we all do it. Our kids need to know we are encouraging growth, not demanding perfection.
Apologize when you mess up—because we all do it. Our kids need to know we are encouraging growth, not demanding perfection.
More than anything, our teens need to know we are there for them. They toss and turn in a sea of emotions, and we are their rock. By being there, being safe, and calmly guiding them through, we are setting them up for emotional strength for years to come.
How do you help your teen when their emotions get the best of them?
Katy Epling is a writer and speaker who loves to share about motherhood, special needs parenting, faith, and more. She and her husband Jon live in northeast Ohio with their three wonderful children.