When children are small, parents are often reminded to serve as an emotional coach to the child, helping him understand his emotions and how to best respond to those emotions. Sadly, when children do not perfect these skills in their younger years, they grow into teenagers who do not have adequate abilities to handle their feelings appropriately. These teens may bury their emotions, rant and rave when faced with anger, or turn to outside influences, even substance abuse, to attempt to cover their feelings artificially. Parents can better serve their teens by learning to be an emotional coach, even to their unruly, nearly adult children.
1. Recognize the Emotion
The first step in this emotional coaching process is recognizing the emotion. With a toddler, you may say, “You are feeling angry.” Teens may not appreciate having their emotions labeled in this way, but you can say something like, “I understand that you are angry about this.” This not only subtly labels the emotion, but also shows a measure of empathy, something most teens crave.
2. Adding Empathy to Emotion
This leads to the next step, which is increasing empathy with emotion. You need to let your teen know that you understand how and why they are feeling what they are feeling. Remember, emotions simply exist, and the sheer emotion cannot be “bad” or “wrong.” It is the behavior that is the result of the emotion that can be problematic, so your teen needs to hear that you understand why they feel the way they do.
3. Validate the Emotion
As you empathize, validate the emotion. Teens want to be validated, and a simple word stating that you know what your teen is feeling and why, and that you see their feelings clearly, can open the door to excellent communication.
4. Set Boundaries for the Emotion
Finally, once you have empathized, labeled the emotion and validated it, you need to set boundaries for the actions the teen is implementing as a result of that emotion. With a small child, you might say, “I understand that you are angry. This is normal, but you may not hit your friend because you are angry.” With a teen, this may sound more like, “I understand that you are angry, and I would feel angry too, but you still may not talk to me in that tone of voice.”
In addition to helping you create a bond with your child, these steps help protect you for those times when you find yourself as the cause of the emotions your teen is facing. If you already have the steps in mind, you will protect yourself from reacting instead of responding to the behavior. In the end, you will raise an emotionally intelligent individual while building a close relationship with your teenager during what could be extremely charged situations.