Your teens’ brains and bodies experience significant changes during the adolescent years. Almost everything in their bodies is growing at a rapid pace. Hormones are on a rollercoaster ride to find balance. Their brains are taking in vast quantities of input and trying to make sense of it. They are trying to form their own identity. As Dr. Damour coined it in her interview with CreatingaFamily.org, they are trying to build their brand. They want their brand to be significantly different from their parents’ brand. Having anything in common with Mom and Dad’s brand is so! annoying! However, developing a brand that is too different from their parents is also irritating. This conundrum for our teens means that everything we do is annoying.
How to Handle Your Teen’s Intense Emotions
Most parents and caregivers know that the central task of adolescent development is individuation – that is, the separate but connected sense of self necessary to launch them into adulthood. The path toward healthy individuation can be bumpy if we don’t know it’s coming and aren’t prepared to handle it. What can you do when your teen is annoyed with you for breathing in their presence?
1. Don’t take it personally.
The eye rolls, huffing and puffing, and snarky comments under their breath feel personal. However, their internal discomfort and unease in their attitudes and demeanor are genuinely more about them. Try to find healthy ways to offload the impact of their dirty looks, angry outbursts, sniping retorts, or other intense emotions:
- Develop a mantra, like “This too shall pass” or “It’s not about me.”
- Smile sweetly and offer a hug.
- Take a ten-minute walk to catch your breath and reset.
2. Understand the developmental process.
Start by educating yourself about the developmental changes of adolescence. These years are challenging for you, but developing their identity (or brand) is also tricky for them. When you can support yourself with research that helps explain why your teen is experiencing these intense emotions, it can help you stay focused on supporting them and teaching them how to cope with these big feelings.
Get our FREE Guide, Parenting a Child Exposed to Trauma, as our thanks for subscribing!
3. Remain (annoyingly) present for your teen.
It’s so tempting in the moments of high stress between you and your teen to hightail it out of there. After all, who wants to hang out with someone mean, distant, or rude? As badly as your teen is acting, they need you to stick close during this stage. In fact, they often need you the most when they behave in the worst ways! Stay close and accessible to your teen without hovering or demanding the same from them. However, it is critical that you also create healthy boundaries and give each permission for space. Find the balance that works for you and your teen, recognizing that the balance changes frequently in this season.
4. Remember: this season doesn’t last forever.
The good news is that typically, in mid-late adolescence, your teen’s intense annoyance (and other intense emotions) should soften. It takes some patience to get there, but quite often, the experiences of the high school years can help kids find their niche. When they find their thing – that community, skill, or passion that helps define their identity – the prickliness and quick flashpoints between you should calm.
5. Don’t allow disrespect or abuse from your teen.
Your teen will inevitably cross lines when expressing big emotions like being so! annoyed! with you. Their immature communication skills could be more polished, right? When your teen does take their aggravation too far, offer these three options for how you will allow them to interact with you.
- You can be friendly.
- You can be merely polite.
- You can ask for space.
Be sure your teen knows you will not tolerate rudeness, disrespect, or abuse toward anyone in your home.
How to Handle Conflict with Your Teen
Conflict with your teen is expected. You want them to clean their room; they want to hang out with friends. They’re thoroughly annoyed with you for just breathing near them on the couch. You’ve asked them several times to speak kindly to their siblings. They want to go to the movies instead of joining the family at Grandma’s. All their annoyance is a ripe opportunity for potentially dramatic conflicts in your home.
However, conflict with your teen, even a teen who lives with the impacts of trauma or prenatal exposure, should not be avoided or feared. Instead, try to consider these challenges as opportunities to teach life skills that will equip them for adulthood.
1. Expect conflict with your teen.
As Dr. Damour mentioned in her interview with CreatingaFamily.org, we live in a culture that is increasingly uncomfortable with emotional discomfort. However, as seasoned adults with plenty of life experience under our belts, we know that life comes with conflict, distress, and other struggles. Even though the teen years are emotionally intense, we can still find ways to teach them how to navigate those big feelings and conflicts with respect and dignity.
2. Try constructive conflict.
When you find yourself in conflict with your teen, take a step back and consider the circumstance from their perspective. What is the underlying need driving their big reaction or big emotion? How can you accommodate their needs safely and still model respect and collaboration? Ask yourself what you want them to learn about navigating a conflict like this.
- Summarize their position. Try to express your teen’s position, giving full credit to their feelings and why. Try not to be judgmental or talk in loaded terms that dismiss the issue’s importance in your voice or word choice.
- Ask them to summarize your position similarly.
- Seek a collaborative outcome. Be prepared to model compromise and patience.
3. The Example:
Your teen wants to go to the movies with a friend you know to be a negative influence. You are concerned by the power this friend has over your teen and whether your teen can stand up to them or make a wise choice. When the conversation starts to heat up, take a deep breath.
Your summary of the concerns:
“Let me see if I can summarize what you want and need from this conversation. Please tell me if I’m missing anything. You want to go to the movies with J. You feel like you’ve shown you are responsible and trustworthy in similar situations. You generally make wise decisions and have developed good judgment about J. You are aware of how Dad and I feel about J’s behavior in the past, and you understand the risks of hanging out with them. You think you know the safe options if you get into a tough spot. Now can you do the same thing for my position?”
Your teen gives it a try:
“You are worried that J’s poor judgement will lead me to make a bad decision. You feel like I’m at risk of choosing to do something unsafe like riding out to the skatepark after dark instead of seeing the movie. You think we might try to go hang out at J’s dad’s house without adults around. You trust me but you don’t trust J. Because J has convinced me in the past to do some pretty dumb stuff. You are worried that J will sneak alcohol out of his dad’s house again.”
“Thanks for acknowledging my fears of J’s unsafe behavior and big mistakes in the past. But I also appreciate that you’ve grown and made many wise and healthy choices since the last time you hung out with J. Can J’s dad drop you off at the movies, and I’ll pick you up to come back here for pizza? I’ll make some brownies or cookies, and we can get your sister to leave you guys alone while you play pool.”
The Importance of Simple Pleasures with Your Teen
As intense and overwhelming as your teen’s negative emotions can be, their positive emotions are just as significant. Your ability to annoy them is comparable to your ability to make them feel better! Isn’t that reassuring?
It can be pretty easy to relieve your teen’s state of annoyance – or any other negative emotion – by paying close attention to those things that bring them joy. Think about the things that soothe, comfort, or delight them – and be prepared to offer those things when they need them. Look for simple ways to say that you see them, you enjoy who they are, and you like having fun with them, such as:
- Ordering their favorite take-out after a rough rehearsal
- Letting them pick the music for the ride to and from school
- Stopping for a milkshake spontaneously
- Cooking or baking their favorite treat together
- Giving them a “pass” on today’s chores for no reason
- Establishing a regular family game night or movie night
- Inviting their friends for a pizza party or pool party
As you build fun and positive emotional experiences into your time with your teen, you tell them they can count on you no matter how big or challenging their emotions are. When you tune into their emotional perspective with intention and offer what turns that tide for them, you are building connection and security into your relationship. You might even be free to breathe on the couch next to your teen without stepping on their last nerve!
Are you raising a teen? How have you handled their intense emotions? Tell us in the comments!
Image Credits: cottonbro studio; Andrea Piacquadio; cottonbro studio