Do you notice that your teen goes through these times when it seems like their entire body has been overtaken by emotion? Almost as if they’ve been consumed by a strange creature, and you’re not sure what’s going to be left when it’s all said and done?? You see a full-on Hulk standing in your living room where your once-lovely child was.
Yep, most teens go through times of HUGE emotions, and most parents of teens have been there, seen that! Due to the physiological processes occurring in teens as their brains grow and develop and as their hormones and body chemistry changes, feeling really big feelings is something most teens experience from time to time. And, it ain’t pretty. Not for teens and not for those who love them. Often, parents can feel like, “Wait, seriously? Seriously? We’re doing this AGAIN?”
The truth is that teens don’t much enjoy feeling out of control like this either. Probably just like their families, they may wish they could stop these times, slam on the brakes and go instantly back to being their regular ol’ self. Or, at the very least, teens may want to be able to understand what caused the feeling or why this is happening. It can feel terrible to everyone when a teen is so hijacked by the emotion beast. And yet, this is a normal experience of being an adolescent. (That’s right—strong emotions may continue even into a teen’s early twenties as their brains continue to develop.)
So, if this is normal, how can we help teens have an easier time of it? If we can’t stop it, how do we survive and not let the emo monster wreak havoc in the meantime?
My top 4 tips:
- Accept that this is happening and find or make space to let the emotion out. This may involve crying (probably in a heaving-sobbing-red-faced-snot-dripping kind of way) or talking it out with a trusted adult or friend. Alternately, doing something physical like going for a walk or a jog can be really useful. Personally, I even find it helpful to imagine the situation or person upsetting me, and visualize that I’m stomping on the problem with each step or that I’m letting the concerns evaporate off my body and into the air because I don’t need to keep holding them but the world has space to contain them. The point is—there are a million ways to let feelings out. The important part is for your teen to have some healthy outlets to do so. Also, as much as you may want to help or just find some peace, please remember not to try to force your teen to do something. A reminder like, “It looks like you’re really upset right now. What could help you get these feelings out?” OR “Maybe this is a good time to go for a run, like you like to do.”
- When the feelings are this big, it is NOT usually helpful to try to reason them out of their feelings. In fact, I notice that using logic in times like these can be even more upsetting because, on some level, teens KNOW their feelings are out of proportion. Part of them may be well aware that their reaction is TOO MUCH, buuuut that doesn’t mean they know how to stop it. Also, having an adult tell a teen they’re “wrong” when the teen is in the total swing of emotion may just exacerbate the situation. Plus, if teens could convince themselves to stop feeling so much or to stop overreacting, they probably would, so pointing this out can just lead to them getting more angry or frustrated or overwhelmed.
- Instead, try to help your teen remember, from their past experience and yours, that the emotion will pass. They can wait it out. Sometimes I think this is more challenging for teens because they don’t yet have the benefit of life experience that has taught them this. During times when your teen is calmer, you can help teach them or remind them of coping tools to use when they’re really upset:
- Say “Stop!” out loud if they’re alone or in their head if others are around. Or, imagine a big red stop sign in their mind. Bring this stop sign up every time the emotions feel like they’re completely taking over.
- Focus on their breathing counting to 10. Breathe in and count 1, exhale and count 2. Inhale 3, exhale 4, inhale 5, exhale 6 and so on until 10. Repeat at least 3 times. (Research shows that this kind of deep breathing actually triggers the physiological calming response in our bodies.)
- Distract with music, a movie or show, Youtube video—anything strong enough to pull their attention away from what’s upsetting them until they feel calmer to face it.
- Know that they may need to bounce back and forth between different strategies until the feeling passes.
I know, it can be really, really, really tough to see your teen in a total emotional meltdown. You might be feeling furious yourself, or it might be breaking your heart to see your child so upset (depending, of course, on the situation). You may find yourself wanting to tell them off or trying to fix their problems. Remember, the best thing you can do is take your own breaths, walk away if you need.
And, the best way to support your teen is by remaining calm yourself.
Your teen can get through these times, and so can you! You got this! (And, really, truly, there’s hope. These intense feelings don’t last forever.)
If you or your teen are struggling with managing emotions or you’re concerned that either of both of you need some extra help, please don’t hesitate to reach out! We’re happy to support parents with the immense challenge of parenting and teens with the challenges of teening. You don’t have to wait until it gets worse. Let’s chat today if you’re needing more!
Take good care,
Ivy Griffin, LMFT # 51714, Director
Thrive Therapy & Counseling
1614 X St., Suite A
Sacramento, CA 95818
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