Pre-teens and teenagers often feel and express powerful emotions. They might feel furious if something seems unfair, or really disappointed if something does not turn out the way they wanted.
If your child looks like they need help to calm down, stop. Pay attention to what your child’s behavior is telling you about their feelings before you do or say anything else.
Here are some ideas to help you identify your child’s feelings:
- Try to stay calm and listen to what your child is saying.
- Try standing in their shoes by remembering or imagining yourself in a similar situation.
- Be patient. You might need a lot of practice to identify your child’s emotions.
Label the emotion and connect it with the event. This helps your child understand what they are feeling and why. It also helps them understand what happens in their body when they feel this way.
Labelling the emotion also shows your child that you understand how they feel and that this emotion is OK, even if their behavior is not OK.
Pausing and saying nothing for a few seconds gives your child time to take in what you have just said. It is hard not to jump in and start talking. You might find it helps to count slowly to five in your head while you wait. This pause might be enough for your child to calm down.
If your child is very upset, they might need more time to calm down. They might shut themselves in their room or leave the house. Here is what to do if your child needs more time:
- Make sure that they are safe.
- Get someone to help you if you need it.
- Stay calm. Stay close to your child if it is safe to do so. Staying close shows your child that you understand and that you can handle whatever their emotions are.
- Wait for the powerful emotion to pass. Be patient.
- Give your child some space if they want it, but let them know you are close by.
- If your child leaves the house, match your response to your child’s age and maturity.
It is important to let your child know it is OK to feel powerful emotions. When your child is calm, you might need to help your child understand the difference between the emotion and the behavior.
Your child needs to calm down before you can help them solve a problem or change a behavior you dislike. What you do after your child has calmed down will depend on the situation. Here are some suggestions:
- If it is appropriate, ask your child whether they want some help with problem-solving.
- If your child is upset about a rule that you would not or cannot change, acknowledge your child’s emotions but avoid a debate.
- If your child is behaving in physically or verbally harmful ways, let them know this behavior is unacceptable.
- Give your child comfort and reassurance if they need it.
Autistic teenagers who show aggressive behavior and teenagers with ADHD often need extra support to cope with powerful feelings and control their impulses.