Managing teen emotions can be a real challenge especially with modern life stresses thrown in the mix. Teens can go from 0 to 10 in a heartbeat, sometimes over things that to an adult can feel is quite trivial.
Teen tantrums advice
We know how difficult those years can be for some parents so we asked psychotherapist Louise Shuttleworth for her advice on teenage tantrums.
"In preparation for leaving the family nest, our brains change between 12 and 25. One of the clear changes is that a teen will commonly be flooded by emotion and that can be hard for a parent.
For some parents, it can create an alarm response in themselves which might make them distance themselves from their children as a way of coping. However, this distancing response reduces the parent's ability to attune to their child. In fact, multiple research studies now show that the greatest predictor of a child's future depends on the degree the influencing adults have made sense of their own lives.
Understanding our self-insight in turn gives greater ability to empathise with others, and the ability to show compassion and kindness to others will in turn reduce emotional arousal with our teens and children."
So what are teenage tantrums?
Tantrums are essentially a reflection of the difficulty a teen has being able to self-regulate, known as 'emotional dysregulation'.
Firstly, it is the parent/carer's responsibility to initiate the repair, not the teens. It is known as the 'Rupture/Repair' cycle and happens in many relationships and no parent gets it right all the time. However it is the parent who needs to make the first move.
How do you deal with teen tantrums?
When a tantrum ensues, it is common for a parent to want to solve the issue immediately. Resist this urge as this does not chime with the more emotional part of the brain. The first step is to create an atmosphere to give teens the tools to self soothe and self regulate.
Dan Siegel, a leading researcher and therapist on this subject, developed the parenting acronym, PART that may help you influence your actions.
- Presence - being receptive and open to what the other person is saying
- Attunement - this is not focusing on the outward behaviour but understanding the mind beneath the behaviour
- Resonance - the receiving of the other person's opinion and your reaction to it. These all lead to
- Trust - this creates the environment for a child to return to you for future times, ensuring emotional safety.
How to implement PART with your teens
Step 1 - Listening
Stop what you are doing and pay attention, i.e. be present. Don't say anything, just listen to what they're saying. When there is a natural pause, paraphrase back to the teen what you have heard, "so you are feeling angry because you wanted to have friends over for a sleepover tonight?"
Sometimes it's helpful for the parent to name the emotion that they are witnessing. In this way, a teen feels understood and knows that you, as a parent, really are focused on their experience. The teen feels more understood and can voice the feelings under the emotion, i.e. "I also feel hurt that you changed your mind without talking about it with me."
A top tip: listen to the tone of your teen's voice, come in a shade quieter and then slowly reduce the voice tone and pace. You'll notice the teen then follows suit and moves into a calmer space themselves. After all, it's hard to shout back if someone is talking softly.
Step 2 - Solutions
Once emotions have cooled, you can move into the solution phase, inviting your teen to explore possible solutions with you.
If a teen does not calm down after two attempts, I would suggest a cool down period for a while by removing yourself for 15-30 mins. You might say, "you seem very angry, I am going to go to the shops and let's chat later" and then return in about half an hour. This allows a cooling off period, keeps you out of the firing line, and sends a strong message that you are not up for being an emotional punch bag. It is also teaching teens the skills to practise self-regulation in the future. You can then return to solving the problem together.
In parenting teens and children, it is important to understand our own reaction to strong emotions and what it evokes in ourselves. This, then, supports us in supporting our teens.
For further support on teenage tantrums, contact Louise directly via her website.