How can I help my teen learn to recognize and manage their emotions?

What Does it Mean to Recognize Emotions?

Emotions are part of what makes us human.  Our emotions give us information about how we and others are doing and can affect our thoughts and behavior.  However, being able to recognize, label and regulate (manage) our reactions to our emotions is not something all of us are skilled at. In fact, many of us learn to ignore our emotions and keep them inside. 

To begin exploring the world of emotions, let’s start with the common emotions that most humans are wired with. These include:

  • anger
  • sadness
  • fear
  • joy
  • interest
  • shame
  • surprise
  • disgust

According to research, all other feelings are a combination of those eight.  At the most basic level, teens can identify which of these eight emotions they are feeling. With some practice they may be able to describe  their emotions using more specific vocabulary.

Why it Matters

Teens are at an age when life is challenging and often hard to navigate.  They are learning more about who they are and what they want. Being able to identify and manage their own emotions are skills that have wide-ranging effects socially, mentally and academically.  When teenagers learn how to name what they are feeling and express emotions in an appropriate way, they are:

  • more likely to do well in school.
  • more capable of building positive relationships.
  • more confident and independent.
  • better at managing stress.
  • less likely to become anxious and depressed.

Adults can help teens make the connection between the way they are feeling and the particular behaviors that may stem from those emotions.  For example, when they feel irritated or tired (from school, work, social relationships), they tend to speak to their sibling  in a sharp, mean tone. Over time, they may  begin to see patterns and either be able to stop the behavior from happening  or find ways to feel better when they notice the irritation developing.

Take this brief survey to learn more about your teen’s skills in identifying and managing emotions. After you complete the survey, you will read more about specific strategies you can help them develop.

Skills For Identifying Emotions
My teen can . . . 
AgreeAgree somewhat Disagree
identify their own emotions and verbally express how they are feeling
explain why they may be feeling a certain emotion 
identify situations or factors that cause them to feel stressed, or overwhelmed 
recognize that their emotions impact their thoughts and behavior 
recognize how their feelings and behaviors affect others
explain how others’ comments or behaviors impact their emotions
Skills For Managing Emotions
My teen can . . . 
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talk about their feelings with me or another trusted person (family member, friend, school counselor, etc.)
identify strategies that help them feel calm and deal with stress (getting space, exercising, taking deep breaths, talking or writing about their feelings)
take time to feel calm before reacting to or acting on strong emotions
when upset or angry, respond appropriately without blaming or judging themselves or others 

How Can I Help My Teen Develop These Skills?

Start the conversation:

  • Try a new check-in question: Instead of “How was your day?” or “How’s it going?” which focus on external factors, help your teen focus on their inner climate by asking, “How are you feeling today?”
  • Help them learn to label their own emotions by saying something like “It seems like you are…”  
  • Model your own emotion management skills: or example, “I’m feeling stressed. I need some space.” or “I’m going to go outside and take a few deep breaths.”  or “I was really annoyed when I saw the mess in the bathroom. Now that I’m feeling calmer, I’ll ask you to pick up your clothes from the floor.”

How can I Help My Teen Learn to Manage Their Emotions?

It is important that teens be able to express both positive and challenging feelings with family,  friends, and other important people in their lives. Learning regulation strategies to help them calm down before they speak or act, can result in more effective and meaningful interaction and improved relationships. 

Examples of emotion regulation strategies include: taking deep breaths, giving yourself some space, not sweeping emotions under the rug, but finding ways to calmly express strong emotions, finding social support, and engaging in positive self-talk.  It is important to note that there is not just one way to regulate one’s emotions and that factors such as background, culture and age can influence how one gets back to center.   The idea is that everyone finds the particular ways of regulating emotions that work for them.

In addition the strategies above, you can support your teen by:

  • Validating their feelings and try to see situations from their point of view
  • Modeling both labeling and regulating emotions; show your kids that you also experience a variety of emotions 
  • Providing an environment where they feel comfortable sharing both positive and difficult emotions. 
  • Consulting with a school counselor or other service provider to identify someone outside of the family to help your child.  

Activities 

Disconnect from Tech: Find some time each day for members of the family to disconnect from technology and give your teens undivided attention. Allow them to share whatever they choose to share and provide a safe space for them to bring up anything-big or small.

Mood Meter:  Help your teen identify their feelings  by using the Mood Meter.  This can be done once in the morning and/or in the evening.  For some of the unpleasant feelings, brainstorm ways of feeling  better. 

Yoga + Meditation:  There are plenty of free videos and practices online.  They can be as short as 5 minutes and as long as you have time for. Practice with your child. 

Share the Joy:  Pick a regular time of day such as the evening drive home, dinner, or bedtime.  Invite each family member to share three things that went well that day or that they are happy about.  Take a moment to share in the joy each person has.  Make it a habit and see if it doesn’t change the mood for everyone.

Personal Identity Wheel:  Create this with your teen or have them do it on their own and share it with you.  Each family member can also do one and share it as a group. https://sites.lsa.umich.edu/inclusive-teaching/personal-identity-wheel/

Contact your school counselor or psychologist for resources on this topic.  Here are other ways to get involved and learn more:

  • Social media:  Find a Facebook page that focuses on social/emotional learning in teenagers and participant in online discussions
  • Parent book club:  Find a book on social emotional learning and start a book club to learn more and connect with other parents.  
  • SEL in your community:  Research local organizations that provide courses and and training for social and emotional learning for parents.
  • SEL in the school:  Find out what teachers and administrators are doing to promote social and emotional learning in the classroom and school-wide.

Center for Parent and Teen Communication- Support Teens to  Release Emotions:  More strategies for helping teens express their emotions.  Some description of the importance in supporting teens in this way.  https://parentandteen.com/support-teens-release-emotions/

KQED- Emotional Agility as a Tool to Help Teens Manage Their Feelings:  An explanation for why emotions are important and ways teachers and parents can support teens.  https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/47616/emotional-agility-as-a-tool-to-help-teens-manage-their-feelings

Parent Resource Guide for Social/Emotional Learning:  A list of resources on social and emotional learning  for parents. https://www.edutopia.org/sel-parents-resources

Social Emotional Learning

Responsible Decision Making

How can I help my child . . .

  • recognize and handle peer pressure
  • make safe, healthy, responsible choices
Social Emotional Learning

Self-Management

How can I help my child . . .

  • get/stay organized and manage their time responsibly?
  • take initiative and develop independence?, (communicate problems and ask for what they need, stay organized, and set and reach goals)
  • be responsible and reliable?
  • better manage stress and strong emotions?
Social Emotional Learning

Social Awareness

How can I help my child . . . 

  • recognize others’ emotions and develop empathy?
  • be aware of their own impact on others?
  • be open to and accepting of differences?