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It is a classic stereotype that teens are moody and wildly emotional

And really, that is fair enough! The amount of physical, neurological, social and emotional changes they are going through is enormous. One of the things I hear a lot from parents is about wanting their kids to be more resilient and cope with their emotions better. Unfortunately, they are actually two separate, but related concepts, and not necessarily a useful goal.

From early childhood, your teens have been observing you and how you manage your emotions. It is also a classic stereotype that psychologists love to ask people about their childhood – we do! And the reason for that is as a parent, you are likely your child’s longest relationship for quite some time. So first step in thinking about how to support your teen to manage their emotions is to think about how you manage your own and what example you set.

And what does managing emotions even mean? Does it mean only having nice ones? Or having all emotions, but never too big that they spill out? And this is why I said earlier that some of those questions aren’t great goals. Because really, the aim is to help support our young people to experience a wide range of emotions and to identify ways they can do this without getting completely overwhelmed by them.

Being able to identify how you cope is something that most adults are not very good at, and neither are most teens. Often they will jump to the obvious answers – go on my phone, talk to a friend, play a game. But what they don’t often realise is what they do in a typical day that helps them to regulate – making a snack when they get home from school, taking their shoes off when they are out in the yard so they can feel the grass, taking a longer hot shower etc. These are little, incidental things, but they are important things when it comes to thinking about how we can self-regulate. And self-regulation is really all about being able to have flexibility in moving your current state.

So if you want to think about how to support your teen when they have big emotions? Well, the first step is to read the previous blog on emotion coaching because that is super helpful when they want you to be involved in helping them. The second step is helping them identify what they do that helps them feel: good, calm, at ease etc. And make a list. Make their own coping list that they can make use of to help them when they need some support. Those coping strategies aren’t meant to take all the big feelings away – they are just a chance to buy some time to let those feelings slow down

And if you need some ideas, a number of years ago I got hundreds of teenagers to submit their coping strategies and I collated them into a list! Download it here: https://connectedcc.com.au/…/Copious-coping-list-home.pdf

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At ConnectEd Counselling and Consultancy, we believe that all families, and the communities they belong to, benefit from a little extra care and support. Whether the problems are big or small, we want to make sure everyone has the chance to feel connected – to themselves, to others and to their community. We offer counselling services to young people and families and have immediate availability. If you need some support, get in touch here: https://connectedcc.com.au/book-now/

(Written by: Dr Matt O’Connor)

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