The teenage years are difficult to say the least. One of the biggest issues for many teens is learning to regulate emotions. As your teen experiences hormonal changes, they may be more challenging to interact with. It may seem like your teen is extra sensitive and likely to take most things you say as criticism. When they start to feel criticized, teens may lash out at you, have intense crying spells, or completely shut down and isolate. As a parent, you may feel helpless or unsure of how to effectively interact with your teenager.
Part of what teens need to learn is how to self-regulate. We are not born with the ability to regulate. In fact, in the early years of life, parents help children to regulate their feelings. As children get older and grow into teenagers and young adults, they need to learn to regulate their own emotions. This is more challenging for some teens than others. It is important for teens to understand what emotions do for them. When teens are unable to process their emotions in a healthy way, they come out in an impaired way, leading to depression, resentment, apathy, self-pity, anxiety, rage, toxic shame, or manufactured gladness (Dodd, 2001).
There are a variety of factors that can make emotion regulation difficult, including: biological vulnerability, not having the skills to regulate emotions, the environment reinforcing extreme emotions, among other things. Below are some helpful ways for teens to learn to regulate.
Yoga: your teen may or may not already participate in a yoga class of some kind, but what can be helpful is to use different yoga poses based on how your teen is feeling to help regulate his or her emotions. For example, child’s pose can help to soothe and calm your teen, while tree pose helps with grounding, focus, and balance. Tree pose is especially helpful with that zoned out look that your teen may display.
Breathing: there are a variety of breathing techniques that can help to calm your teen down. One technique is called circular breathing. With circular breathing you inhale as you naturally would and count the seconds of your inhale. Most people can get to 6 to 8 counts. More or less will also work. You will then hold your breath for the same count as the inhale, then you will exhale for the same count. As you breathe in, you may count to yourself, 1,2,3,4,5,6, then hold for, 1,2,3,4,5,6, then exhale, 1,2,3,4,5,6, hold for, 1,2,3,4,5,6. Your teen will continue this until they feel calmer. Belly Breathing and Progressive Muscle Relaxation can also help calm the nervous system.
Grounding: using the five senses can be useful when your teen looks spaced out. They may withdrawal and isolate. Have your teen orient him or herself to his or her surroundings. Have your teen name 5 things in the room that they see that are green, notice four things with different textures that they can feel, notice 3 different sounds they can hear, notice 2 things they can smell, and one thing they can taste. Carrying around gum or mints may be helpful for this coping skill.
Journaling: some teens yell, some have emotional break downs, while others just shut down. All are difficult to deal with. Learning to journal and get your feelings out through writing is a helpful way to calm down. Once calm, it is much easier to have a rational conversation.
In our upcoming summer teen intensive, we will cover skills to help with self-regulation, among many other helpful tools. Summer intensives run June 19-22 and July 17-20 from 9am – 1pm. Intensive is run by Mary Ann Sokolowski, LPC- MHSP and Natalie LeQuang, LPC-MHSP (temp). Lunch will be included! This is a great opportunity for your teen to connect and learn skills to live a healthier, more fulfilling life. Visit the intensives section of my website to learn more or contact me at (410) 591-6985 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dodd, C. (2001) The Voice of the Heart. Sage Hill