How to Help Teens Navigate Big Emotions

How to Help Teens Navigate Big Emotions

How Do I Help My Teen?

Being a parent is challenging. Being a parent of a teenager comes with its own unique challenges. And being the parent of a teenager who is struggling with mental health problems adds to that challenge. Many parents are left asking “what do I do?” when their teen is overwhelmed and emotionally reactive. They know they want to help their child, but are left feeling unsure. Their teen’s emotions might seem explosive or confusing in their scope and intensity.

Showing Up

NPR recently published this podcast episode titled “How to Show Up for Teens When Big Emotions Arise”. This episode explains clearly and calmly why teens experience intense emotions–the emotion centers in their brains are more developed than their reasoning centers–as well as how to support them when these emotions show up.

Here are several suggestions from a clinical psychologist:

  • If you find yourself becoming impatient or angry, remind yourself that adolescence is a difficult time. Your teen is going through a lot of changes, and their brain isn’t always equipped to respond rationally to them. They are trying their best with less equipment than we have.
  • If your teen is feeling badly or having low self-esteem, your first impulse might be to reassure them that it’s not true. But to a teen, that experience is their reality. Telling them that it’s not true or is out of proportion will only invalidate them and make them feel worse. Instead, sit with them in that emotion. Listen to what they are saying and empathize with their experience. Try saying something like “I know those feelings are really difficult. That must be so hard for you.”
  • Giving teens space is important when they are processing their emotions.
  • At the same time, provide a safe space for them to express their emotions when they are ready.
  • If your teen is having a really difficult time expressing their emotions, remind them of healthy non-verbal ways of expression, like listening to music, journaling, playing sports, and making art.
  • If your teen is turning to other ways to cope with their emotions, such as acting out or drug use, it is a way of expressing or avoiding the suffering they are experiencing. Seeking professional help such as therapy can help them to come to terms with their emotions and find new coping strategies.

Additional Resources

If your teen is experiencing mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, OCD, ADHD, or borderline personality disorder (BPD), the usual emotional challenges of adolescence are amplified and may feel overwhelming.

At the Youth and Family Institute – Los Angeles, we provide state-of-the-art cognitive behavioral therapies (CBTs), including Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Behavioral Activation (BA), Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and other evidence based interventions to help improve our clients’ mental health and quality of life.

Most of our therapists are also scholars, actively contributing to the research base supporting the efficacy of these interventions. We also offer skills training in Emotion Regulation, Interpersonal Communication, Distress Tolerance, and Mindfulness, as well as individual therapy and parent coaching. We also have a list of free resources that can increase our sense of connection and wellness.


How to show up for teens when big emotions arise” – Published for NPR by Rachel Martin on March 30, 2023. Listen now.


Los Angeles Area Resources

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Growing list of ideas for activities (nature, art, social, volunteering, etc.), and ideas for getting active, which is also an important part of feeling better.

Our team provides comprehensive DBT and other evidence-based treatments to help make positive changes in the lives of children, young adults, and their families.

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