3 ways you can help your teen express emotions

Expert tips on how to support your teen.

It’s healthy and important for teens to express their emotions. Here are three ways for adults to support them when they do.

1. Respond with empathy

When teens tell us that they are feeling upset, adults can be tempted to respond with advice, encouragement or questions. These may be useful, but it’s often the case that what teens want most is empathy.

When teens share painful feelings, consider responding first with compassion, saying: “I’m so sorry that you are feeling that way” or “Of course you are upset”, often provides just the support that teens are looking for and can help keep the lines of communication open.

2. Get specific

Talking about feelings provides emotional relief and research shows that talking in highly specific terms about emotions can be especially helpful.

If your teen shares that they’re feeling anxious ask them what’s going on and listen carefully.

Then, see if you can offer even more precise terms for how they are feeling. Depending on what they’ve shared, you might say: “Yes, I can see why you’re feeling anxious and I wonder if you’re also feeling frustrated or apprehensive or concerned?”.

3. Value non-verbal expression

Teens aren’t always in the mood to talk about how they are feeling and that’s okay. There are many healthy ways for teens to get their feelings out that don’t involve words.

Teenagers often find emotional relief through physical activity or by having a good cry, by listening to music, or through making art that expresses how they feel.

Tune into and support the many healthy ways that your teen expresses emotions.

Dr. Lisa Damour is a psychologist, author, New York Times contributor and mother of two.

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