Why Parents Should Teach Teens About Feelings

Help Your Teen Understand the Basics About Emotions

Upset Teen
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Sometimes teens struggle to identify and understand how they're feeling. Frequent mood shifts and an inability to cope with those rapidly changing emotions make it a tumultuous time for many teens. Teaching your teen to identify and understand her feeling has many advantages.

The Difference Between Thoughts, Feelings and Behavior

Teens can benefit from learning the distinct difference between thoughts, feelings and behavior.

Many teens struggle to understand the difference. Often, when I ask a teen how he’s feeling, he’ll say something like, “I think I shouldn’t have to go to math class.” Instead of saying how he’s feeling, he’ll tell me what he thinks. Sometimes, teens struggle to label a feeling word that describes their emotions and they can benefit from learning that their thoughts, feelings and behavior are separate issues.

Here is an example:

  • Feeling – Angry
  • Thought – “I don’t like it when people ignore me.”
  • Behavior – Pounding a fist on the table.

Help your teen understand that just because he feels angry, it doesn’t give him a right to behave in an aggressive manner. Teach your teen that he can learn how to be in control of his behavior, no matter what he’s feeling.

Also, help your teen identify thoughts that influence how he feels. A teen who thinks constantly about an upsetting incident is likely to continue to feel angry.

If he can refocus his thoughts on something else or change the way he looks at the situation he may feel better.

Although it sounds like a fairly simple concept, most teens I meet need help understanding the difference. Ask your teen how he’s feeling about specific situations or circumstances. Then, help him label a feeling word that describes his emotion.

With practice, he’ll become more used to describing how he’s feeling, not just what he’s thinking and it will empower him to take control over his behavior.

Understanding Emotions Helps Establish Coping Skills

When teens don't know how they're feeling or don't understand how emotions work, coping with those feelings in a healthy way becomes very difficult. Teens need to know how to deal with uncomfortable feeling like anxiety, sadness and anger. Once teens have a better understanding that emotions are acceptable and it's okay to feel them, they can learn healthy ways to deal with them.

Teens may need help finding healthy coping skills to deal with their emotions while talking to a friend may relieve anxiety for one person, drawing may be the best strategy for another teen. Help your teen identify coping strategies that will help him tolerate the discomfort he experiences when he has strong emotions.

Improves Social Skills

A teen who is more in-tune with his feelings will exhibit better social skills compared to a teen who doesn't understand his emotions.

For example, a teen who is feeling anxious because his friends don't seem to be including him in their conversation may exhibit attention-seeking behavior, such as making strange noises or lying to get attention. A teen who understands his emotions may be able to be assertive and say, “I'm feeling left out.”

Teens are likely to experience better relationships and less conflict when they understand the emotions they're experiencing. Help your teen think about how other people may feel in certain situations. This can help him empathize with his friends and understand how his behavior influences how others feel. An emotionally intelligent teen is more likely to think about other people’s feelings in social situations and can be more accepting of other people.

Reduces Behavior Problems

Teens who understand their feelings are able to use their words rather than their actions to express themselves. For example, a teen who understands he's feeling angry may be able to talk about those feelings or address the problem. A teen who lacks understanding of anger may blame others for his angry feelings and not accept responsibility for damaging property when he's upset.

As your teen begins to develop a better understanding of his feelings he’ll be able to find positive ways to cope with his emotions before things get out of control. A teen who recognizes warning signs that he’s getting very upset, will look for strategies to solve the problem or cope with his emotions, rather than allowing his behavior to get out of control.

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