Tips for Dealing With an Emotional Teen
The change in children’s emotional intensity from tweendom to the teen age can be jarring to the people who parent them. A typically good-humored child can now seem to cycle from sunny to stormy in a matter of minutes, leaving parents confused, hurt, angry, or worried—and maybe even all of the above.
To help support your child’s emotional fluctuations, it’s important to recognize the monumental changes they are facing.
“Between the ages of 11 and 17, your teen’s body and brain are growing and changing in many ways. These physical and emotional changes may be associated with your teen feeling self-conscious or experiencing a range of emotions,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) writes in “Essentials for Parenting Teens.” “Excitement may quickly change to frustration and sadness, and your teen may experience more than one emotion at the same time.”1
Finding ways to help teenagers recognize and process their emotions during these critical years can help all parties grow—and find a little peace.
“The manner in which adolescents navigate these changes and challenges is largely a function of interactions—both positive and negative—with families, communities, and the larger social environment,” the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) says. “The health and well-being of our young people (and the adults they will become) are critically affected by their experiences during this developmental milestone.”2
Taking Steps to Support Your Teen
The CDC’s teen parenting guide outlines a process called “emotion coaching” that you may find helpful. Here are six suggested steps:3
“What does your teen look like when they’re feeling different emotions—happy, sad, frustrated, scared, interested, inspired, or excited? Look for clues in their facial expressions, voice, and body language,” the CDC writes. “Work with your teen to build a shared list of words to describe the different emotions they may experience.”
Take a pause.
Patience may be a virtue, but it can also be in short supply for parents and caregivers during the teen years.
“It’s common for parents to find themselves getting upset and reacting negatively to something their teen says or does. When this happens, remember to pause,” the CDC says. “Take a deep breath or take a break before talking with your teen. Pausing for 10 to 30 seconds or taking time to get calm when you are emotional is easier said than done! … Pausing is a practice. Keep practicing and trying out what works best for you and your teen.”
Coach when calm.
Before you step in, check in—with yourself. If you don’t feel ready for a discussion, and if the situation isn’t urgent, the CDC’s parenting guide suggests putting the conversation aside for a time.
“Before you can support your teen in recognizing and managing their emotions, it’s helpful to figure out how you are feeling. Pause and ask yourself: Is this a good time to coach my teen on emotions? Am I feeling safe and calm? Do I have the time and energy to focus on my teen? If you answer yes to these questions, you’re ready to start emotion coaching your teen. If the answer is no, feel free to tell your teen that you will check in with them a little later.”
When interacting with an emotional teen, your instinct may be to disconnect. But how about reframing the situation, so you can see an opportunity rather than a challenge? “Helping your teen with their emotions is a wonderful opportunity to connect,” the CDC says. “Taking the time to be present—especially when your teen is experiencing emotions and having a hard time—is a great investment … you can help your teen feel seen and heard and that they can come to you for your help or just to talk about how things are going in their lives.”
Your teen may need some help getting a conversation about emotions started. “Ask open-ended questions to help your teen become aware of their feelings, and really listen to their answers,” the CDC guide suggests. “Approach this as a two-way conversation that will help your teen pay attention to and understand their emotions.”
And don’t judge, the guide cautions. “Once your teen has described what they are experiencing, express empathy and understanding. Tell them that you noticed their emotions, and that their emotions are valid.”
Think twice about advice.
Most adults don’t want unsolicited advice, and neither do most teenagers. “Teens may shut you down if you try to tell them what to do,” the guide says. “Instead, wait for teens to ask for your help finding solutions or problem-solving.”
Clinical Social Workers and Others Can Help
You don’t have to navigate your child’s teen years alone. There are all kinds of experts and resources available to help. Clinical social workers, school social workers, and child and family social workers are some of the professionals who regularly help teens and their families get support, find services, and gain the skills they need.
“Social workers understand that everyone—individuals, communities, and society as a whole—reaps the benefits from investments in helping our young people achieve optimal physical and mental health,” the NASW says. “Social workers provide essential services in the environments, communities, and social systems that affect the lives of youths.”2
You can also become part of this important work by choosing a social work career.
With growth in social work jobs expected through 2031,4 this may be a good time to earn a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree online from Walden University. Walden’s online MSW degree program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education; CSWE accreditation is a requirement for licensure in most states.
You can align your online MSW degree studies with today’s in-demand social work jobs by choosing choose one of five focus areas: Addictions, Child and Family, Healthcare, Military, and Trauma.
You can also choose one of three online degree completion options to create an MSW degree experience that fits your professional goals and lifestyle.
The accredited university also gives you the opportunity to advance your social work education and practice to the highest level by earning a Doctor of Social Work (DSW) degree or a PhD in Social Work online.
And all of Walden’s online social work degree programs give you the flexibility to log in and work on your studies on your own schedule, 24/7.
Earning an online MSW or DSW can prepare you for the career you envision, where you make an impact in the social work profession and help lift up the lives of the children, teens, and adults you serve.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online Master of Social Work (MSW) degree program. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient online format that fits your busy life.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.
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