Managing emotions and stress

You might notice your teenager is having more emotional ups and downs, unpredictable moods or strong feelings. Their brain is still figuring out how to manage and express emotions in a more controlled way, and part of this involves learning how to recognise and understand what they’re feeling.

You can help your young person by:

  • asking about their feelings – “You look worried. Is there something on your mind?” or, “It sounds like you’re really angry. Would you like to talk about that?”
  • listening to your teenager when they talk about their emotions. This helps them to identify and understand what they’re feeling and to manage their emotions effectively.
  • not dismissing or trivialising your teenager’s emotional responses. This may be interpreted as “my feelings are unimportant”.
  • avoiding responding in a way that could lead them to believe that their emotions are wrong and that they are bad for having them, e.g. “Why are you crying like a baby?” or “You’re such a wuss!”
  • validating their feelings, especially if they’re upset or struggling with what’s going on – for example, when a pet dies, when they’re having issues with friends, or when they fail an exam.

Dealing with stress  

Stress is part of life, and a bit of stress can be a good thing – it helps us work harder and faster in spurts, meaning we can perform at our best when we need to. But learning how to deal with stress – managing it so it doesn’t manage you – is an important skill.

And because ongoing stress is a risk factor for mental health conditions, it’s important to sort out stressful issues as early as possible.

You can help by using effective strategies for managing stress as an example for your teenager, as well as modelling how to cope well with stressful situations and setbacks.  

Pay attention to your teenager’s behaviour for indications that they may be experiencing or not coping well with stress, and talk about what you can do to help. If stress is becoming a problem or they’re getting overwhelmed on a regular basis, suggest they get some extra support from a mental health professional.
Practical tips
  • Encourage your young person to talk about problems when they happen so they can be sorted out earlier.
  • Help them find ways to relax that work for them – listening to music, going for a run or doing something creative.
  • Some young people also benefit from meditation or guided relaxation. Smiling Mind has a free App including short guided meditations
  • Suggest they plan their week, figure out their deadlines and how they’re going to get their study/work done.
  • Suggest that your young person leaves big decisions until they’re feeling a bit better and able to approach the situation more objectively.

Dealing with pressure and expectations 

Many young people feel the weight of expectation – from parents, teachers, friends, school, and what they expect from themselves and their lives. And while we all want our teenagers to reach their potential, try to match your expectations to their individual personality, interests and capabilities.

Where there’s an ‘expectation gap’ between what you think your teenager should be achieving or aiming for and the reality, it’s important to recognise the effect this pressure can have on your young person.

Remember that the most important thing is that they are healthy and happy in whatever they choose to do.

The media – and increasingly, social media – can also be a source of pressure and expectations. Talk about the messages and images your young person receives through the media or their social feeds which can shape their values, perceptions and expectations about life.  

Exam stress

It’s important to remind young people that exam results are only one measure of success, and there are many avenues to getting where you want to go in life.

Check out Reach Out’s tips for exam stress and teenagers, aimed at helping parents support young people through what can be a challenging time.

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