Parenting a Teen with Intense Emotions

It’s totally normal for teens to have intense emotions, but how can you help regulate them? Read on for insight and advice.

From fitting in with friends to navigating relationships to enduring body and hormone changes, the adolescent years are tough. Teens often feel intense fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, anger, joy and infatuation — and can experience a number of these emotions on daily basis. Some may even experience something known as emotional flooding.

“Emotional flooding is a term coined when a person experiences too many emotions or too much of one emotion and cannot handle all of them at once,” says Angela Avery, a licensed professional counselor in private practice at the Counseling Studio in Clarkston.

“Metaphorically, it’s like your body is a house, and the more emotions experienced the more the basement gets flooded, then the main floor, then the upstairs until finally, you are underwater emotionally,” she says.

Sounds scary and overwhelming, doesn’t it? As adults, we may also experience emotional flooding, but by now we have better coping skills. Teens, on the other hand, need more help navigating their intense emotions.

“Teenagers in particular though, have a few challenges that adults don’t have,” she says. “First, hormones during adolescent years fire up intensity and irrationality. Second, brain development is still forming, causing teens to be impulsive and have very black-and-white thinking. Third, the environment may play a role.”

If the people in a teen’s household typically yell or show anger when dealing with emotions, the teen will likely do the same. On the flip side, if a family tends to avoid talking about emotions altogether, the teen will likely keep their emotions silent too.

Want to help your teen cope with their feelings? Here, Avery offers advice for parents.

A rollercoaster of emotions

Certain behaviors are totally normal for teens, Avery says, including “testing their independence, vacillation between confidence and low self-esteem, struggling with identity, investment in appearance, investment in social media persona, challenging parents, searching for belonging in friend groups and relationships. Slamming a door, or crying or pouting is not unusual.”

While intense emotions are normal, there are some signs to look out for, Avery notes, that mean there could be something more happening.

“When there is a drop in grades, loss of interest in their activities, friendship challenges, risky behavior, lack of sleep, drug use, truancy, threats, violence of any kind, self-harming behaviors and anything that seems ‘off’ to a parent,” she says.

These behaviors could mean that your child is dealing with depression or anxiety. If you suspect there is more happening with your child, reach out to their doctor or set up an appointment with a therapist.

How to help your teen

Intense emotions will happen but coping with them is key. The best way to teach your teen how to cope with intense emotions is to show them how you handle those feelings. Do you practice yoga? Do you meditate? Do you turn music on and dance it out? Model healthy ways to cope with emotions and your teen will follow suit.

Also, help your child adopt strategies to cope, YourTeenMag.com notes. Breathing deeply helps steady the body. Inhale through your nose, hold your breath for three seconds and then slowly exhale.

Try calming activities such as yoga, playing music or even drawing. Or, teach your teens to lean on family and friends for support. Let your child know you are there to help. Start a conversation with your teen, Avery suggests.

“If you are anxious, talk about how you handle it. If you are angry, talk about how you manage the anger. It’s always a good idea to talk to your teenager — when it’s calm and they are open — about what’s going on,” she says. “Do you know what’s happening with your teen? Have you provided a safe place for them to talk?”

Content brought to you by the Ethel and James Flinn Foundation. For more information, visit flinnfoundation.org.

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