Helping your teen express frustration, sadness, anger 

No one likes feeling sad, angry, or frustrated. When you’re a parent though, seeing your kid struggle with these emotions can be even harder than experiencing them yourself. While there is no way to protect our kids from negative feelings, we can help them learn to manage and express them, something that will benefit them both right away and in the long term. Here’s how to help your teen identify productive ways to express frustration and other big feelings. 

Set a good example

“As parents and caregivers, our ability to express, name, and manage our own tough emotions is an important way children and teens learn. The good news is that it’s normal and important to show that you’re human and experience all kinds of emotions. It’s okay to show up at home as your authentic self.

But there is a big difference for kids when a parent expresses anger, for example, by shutting down, raging or shutting them out instead of just talking about it. “I’ve had such a tough day while you were at school. A situation at work made me so angry, and it’s not your fault at all. I’m having some big feelings to manage today.” Your child doesn’t need to be a confidant or understand your big problems, but they can see that all emotions are okay to have — and that the tough ones don’t last forever,” says Ovia Health Coach, Lilly Schott. 

Spend a little time reflecting on how you manage your emotions and consider whether you’re setting an example you want your kids to follow. If you feel like you have a hard time with this, there are many avenues to work on change. Many parenting experts and coaches have resources, while seeking therapy can also help you develop the coping skills you hope to pass down to your own kids. 

Share concrete ideas

It’s easy to tell our teens to calm down. Telling someone to calm down without teaching them how isn’t very effective though, and often has the opposite impact in the moment. When you’re talking with your kids about managing big emotions, offer them some concrete options to try. Things like deep breathing, listening to music they like, walking away, punching a pillow, journaling or moving their bodies can be very helpful in managing emotions. 

Talk about it when they’re in a good mood

While it can be tempting to try to help your child “calm down” when they’re feeling angry or frustrated, it’s really tough for activated brains to learn new skills. Instead of trying to teach an anger or frustration-management tool when they’re already upset, introduce it when they’re feeling calm and happy. Practice it with them before you call on them to give it a try when they really are upset. 

Point out when they’re doing a good job

When your teen is experiencing a tough emotion and coping well, it can be powerful to point out for them what a good job they are doing. You might say something like, “I know it really upset you to find out your friend spread a rumor about you. I know you’re feeling really angry and I’m proud that you decided to talk to me about it and go for a run before you call or text your friend.” 

Be the rock

When our kids are upset or dealing with a tricky situation, we often want to jump to a “fix.” Many times, our job isn’t to fix anything or even to offer a solution. Sitting with your child and listening deeply, and acknowledging that their emotions are real and valid is powerful. A simple statement like “I believe you,” can go far. Allowing older children and teens to problem solve is crucial for their independence even if you want to jump in with a million ways to make it better. 

While we all know that it’s important for kids to learn how to manage difficult emotions, seeing our kids experience frustration, sadness, and anger can be really hard. Next time you see or get the sense that your kiddo is experiencing something difficult, take a deep breath and know that how you help them process their emotions now has the power to give them the emotional intelligence that will benefit them for their entire life. 

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team

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