There is no denying that being a teenager comes with many highs and lows. From navigating school, sports, friends, family, and hormones, It can be challenging to know how to best support the teenager you love.
Learning how to manage and support big emotions with your teenager, begins with emotional availability from the parent. But what does this mean?
Let’s begin with understanding unpacking what it means to be emotionally available. Emotional maturity is marked by one’s ability to be open, vulnerable, and authentic. These are character traits teenagers are learning to adopt, however they become easier to implement when modeled by the parent. Emotional availability is taking those qualities and using them to: actively listen and have meaningful conversations, provide comfort when needed, and the willingness to talk about feelings openly and honestly.
As a parent, there is no magic key to fixing your teenagers problems, although that would be helpful. However there are small, actionable steps that can promote connection within your home, and allow room for big emotions to come and go.
Lisa Damour, a clinical psychologist, discusses the value of supporting teenagers with emotional management, in place of problem-solving.
Damour’s book, The Emotional Lives of Teenagers: Raising Connected, Capable and Compassionate Adolescents, discusses six main strategies for modeling emotional availability to your teens.
- Lead with curiosity and empathy
Application: Explore what is troubling your teen, ask questions that convey genuine interest, and reflect understanding of the feelings being expressed.
- Empathy over reassurance
Application: Recognize the thoughts and feelings being expressed, and reflect that it must be challenging to feel that way. Parents may feel inclined to say “Don’t worry, that is not true at all”; however in this moment teenagers are looking for someone to understand the thought or feeling, not deny it.
- Give them emotional space
Application: “I understand that is how it feels right now, and that’s really discouraging”…”Let’s see if with time there are any other feelings that come up”.
- Limit over-processing
Application: There can always be too much of a good thing. It is important to talk about emotions openly, and have the freedom share authentically. However over-processing can lead your teenager into a spiral of anxious thoughts or beliefs. Instead, after talking transition into a healthy distraction such as engaging in an activity that your teenager enjoys, and saying, “let’s revisit this later after some time away and see how you feel”.
- Non-verbal processing
Application: Talking about emotions is hard, and not every teenager feels comfortable to start with talking about feelings verbally. Listening to music, physical activity, and art can be great alternatives to work through overwhelming emotions.
- Encourage healthy processing
Application: Encourage any and all forms of your teen processing emotions in a healthy way that leads to relief. Anytime a teenager chooses to process emotions in a healthy way, without being self-destructive, is a win. Celebrate with them!