Feelings are obviously very emotionally charged, so the topic is a big one, and an important one. While the topic of dealing with feelings could (and has) been covered in volumes of books, here we will touch on the high points in 3 parts, in a condensed fashion, over this and the next 2 posts, highlighting helpful tips to support your communication efforts dealing with your adolescent and their oh so delicate feelings.
The situation: your teen is flying off the handle again; something seemingly small has set him off into a tirade. You are so tempted to shout “calm down!” or “cut it out!” which if you do, just serves to agitate the situation further. It’s much better to use calming words of judgment, to soothe and change the mood dramatically. “It’s not so bad. We’ll figure it out. Let’s start with…”
The empathetic response is not always easy to give – initially it may feel awkward and phony, like playing a part. But once the habit changes and they know they can count on your calm approach every time, they will open up more and feel safe to talk to you about things that are bothering them.
Here’s another tip: you really don’t have to take your child’s unhappiness and make it your own. We who love them can tend to internalize their emotional struggles, creating unnecessary pressure on you; you are carrying the unrealistic goal of making sure that your offspring are happy 100% of the time. This can also create an added burden on an intuitive adolescent, who is now upset about the original problem, plus upset because they see you suffering over their suffering. They are entitled to be miserable without their parent falling apart. And if you refrain from reacting emotionally, they may talk to you more. Otherwise it’s: “I can’t tell my parents; it’ll crush them to know” which prevents you from being a source of support, if you don’t know or aren’t asked to help.
The more you try to push their unhappy feelings away, the more they become stuck in them. The more you can help them to be comfortable with and accept bad feelings, the easier it is for them to let go of the bad feelings. “Those are rough feelings to have.” Acknowledging that it’s natural and perfectly OK to have bad feelings is also helpful. Instead of, “You shouldn’t be mad at your sister – she didn’t mean to take your things” better to acknowledge with, “You have every right to be mad that your sister borrowed your things without asking you first, whether she meant to or not.” Of course the follow-up is finding a healthy and appropriate way to channel the anger.
Sometimes it’s just so much easier to give in to fantasy than to have an all-out battle over who is right and why. “Wouldn’t it be great if we had a magic wand and you could have anything you wanted in the world? A brand new car – no problem!” If you really let yourself go into the fantasy, even though it isn’t going to happen, the adolescent appreciates that you took his feelings of longing so seriously. [And for younger children, putting a wish list of wants into writing shows acknowledgement as well as caring.]
COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY: Dealing with the intense feelings of an adolescent can take some skill to help them through this stage. The feelings can be overly exaggerated, which is scary when they are negative feelings – very, very angry or very, very sad. Heightened feelings can come on in a flash, with wild mood swings at the slightest provocation. Your skill in handling them can make the difference in setting the tone for the entire household.