During times of change, teenagers can experience a range of emotions that they may not know how to deal with. As parents, we can help them to understand how to manage their feelings of sadness, anger or anxiety when life changes in unexpected ways. When teens understand that these feelings are as normal a part of life as being happy, they are better able to deal with stressful events, such as when a relationship breaks down, or they lose a loved one, a pet or a job.
Why is it important to talk about what’s changed?
Your teenager needs to know that challenging situations might make you feel upset and angry, too, but that you (and they) can handle these strong emotions. Acknowledging and talking about these feelings shows your teen that it’s okay to feel this way.
Negative emotions may not disappear overnight, but talking about things will help your teen to process and accept what’s happened. Teenagers need to be reminded that change is a normal part of life, and that it can help us to develop strengths such as courage, flexibility and resilience. You can also help your teenager feel like they’re not alone and reassure them that this, too, will pass.
Try one of these conversation starters:
- You’ve had a rough time recently. How are you feeling?
- It’s hard to go through a break-up/lose someone/etc. How are you feeling about it?
- I’ve found what’s happened recently super hard and have been feeling weird about it. What about you?
Validate your teen’s feelings
Adults can sometimes be dismissive of young people’s reactions to problems, because their problems don’t seem like such a big deal to us. But try not to ignore or brush off your teen’s moods, as it’s important that they learn how to process these negative emotions. Mood changes when things aren’t going right in their lives are actually a sign of healthy brain activity. They need to feel that you ‘get’ them, and that what’s happening and how they feel about it is valid. There’ll be time to reflect on their reaction together later down the track. Encourage them to talk about what’s going on, rather than simply encouraging them to ‘get over it’.
Help your teen figure out what they can and can’t control
When something unexpected or unwanted happens, it’s easy to get stuck feeling sad, angry or out of control. A helpful way for your teen to cope is to learn how to figure out what they can and can’t control. This will help reassure them that they’re not powerless and give them something positive to focus on.
Work with your teen to break down what’s happened. For example:
- What we can’t control: losing a loved one; natural disasters; pandemics; how someone has treated us; having a bad day.
- What we can control: how we treat other people; what activities we do the next day; what goals we have; who we spend time with; how hard we try to do the best we can.
Acceptance of challenging events
Sometimes, it takes a while to accept hard events that we have no control over, but acceptance will help us to move on. The feelings of hurt, anger and frustration may return every now and then. Remind your teen not to be too hard on themselves, because this reaction is normal and to be expected. Teach them to accept those feelings and to acknowledge that today is a bad day. But also remind them that they’ve had good days and they’ll have them again. You can help your teen to accept the changes in their lives by guiding them to identify the positive things that are happening for them.
By accepting what’s not in their control, your teen isn’t giving it a big thumbs-up; they’re just choosing not to see themselves as a ‘victim’ of what’s happened. They’ll then feel more empowered and able to focus on positive things.
Try asking your teenager:
- Life has been a bit hard for you this week/month. What are some things that have gone well?
- Let’s talk about another time in your life when things felt really hard. What are some of the things that also happened at that time that made you feel good?
What can your teen do next?
When learning how to cope with change, your teen might need help with developing a response to the changes that have occurred in their life. It might mean a new daily routine, or finding time in their existing schedule for an activity that’s enjoyable or will give them new opportunities for personal development. Talk with your teen about activities they find relaxing and rewarding. This could include exercise, art or music, or getting involved in the community by volunteering.
Look after yourself, too!
You can cope with your teenager’s mood swings and emotions. By staying calm when your child is anxious or upset, you are helping to reduce their stress levels. Remind yourself not to take their stress responses personally.
Don’t forget that your mental and physical health is important, too. The stronger you are, the better able you will be to help your children. Often, the situations that cause anxiety in our children are also difficult for us. Try to:
- take some time out to maintain your adult friendships
- commit to your own exercise routine
- eat well and model healthy eating (and drinking) habits
- spend time on hobbies, such as reading, arts, sports or volunteering.
By looking after yourself, you’ll also be role modelling to your teen how you deal with change and tough times. With the right support and time, you can both cope with what’s going on.