Let’s face it, most of us have emotional outbursts from time to time. Even if not openly for everyone to hear, at least internally where we tell ourselves that the person who has “hurt” us is in the wrong. Hopefully we don’t go into this mode as often as our teens, but we do have these negative conversations.
The question is how do we as adults deal with these experiences and move to equilibrium quickly and are we passing the right skills along to our tweens and teens to help them tame the emotional beast?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen grown adults who still haven’t learned the skills to calm their emotions. Several years ago I witnessed an auto accident where a guy speeding in a sports car was involved. Watching from a distance I stared in disbelief as this man jumped out of his car raging and screaming as he ran toward the other car ranting to the other person involved. He was totally oblivious to the state of the other person’s injuries. The man was so emotionally charged in the moment he became an emotional beast ready to take out the individual whom he now saw as an opponent.
There is now brain research that gives us a clue as to what is going on internally when we have those meltdowns–or sometimes shutdowns. Most of the time those feelings will override our ability to think in a cohesive pattern causing us to go into a negative spiral. When we go into the negative self-talk mode then the world around us becomes a dark place where we tend to emotionally vomit on someone who will listen–usually people with which we feel most comfortable around–family–or we go into our own personal inner sanctuary where we shield ourselves from the pain.
Helping our children harness those feelings by speaking truth into their lives can teach them skills that will provide a foundation for more emotional maturity.
So what are some of the things you can do as a parent when your kid comes home from school grunting as he walks past you in the kitchen, ignoring your greeting, disappearing into his room as he slams the door?
Or what do you do when you and your child have had angry words and he shouts “I hate you!”?
What if you see your kid punching his younger sibling or screaming words that you cannot believe are coming from his mouth?
Or you child seems to have retreated to a place where she seems to not be emotional present?
- Take a deep breath and pray. God sees your child’s pain. Ask Him for wisdom in how to deal with this child in this moment.
- Give your teen space. Every emotional outburst doesn’t need to be dealt with immediately. I’ve coined a new catch phrase when I meet with parents. If it isn’t a situation of life and death, choose to deal with it later–meaning after the emotion has subsided. Even if the slammed door has come off it’s hinges or the younger sibling has a bloody nose, deal with the blood and not the emotionally charged teen.
- Re-engage when cooler heads prevail. Re-engage in a safe place. Maybe it is in the quiet of your teens room when everyone else is in bed or you take him to his favorite burger hangout or coffee shop, either way gently broach the subject without raising defensiveness in your teen.
- Ask your teen to do some soul searching. What was he feeling in the moment? What does she think triggered the outburst? Was there ever a time he had that feeling before? If so, what happened in the past and are those two events connected? Research shows that anger in a given situation can sometimes be traced back to a previous event that seemed similar to the current event. Because of that, your teen could have had a heightened emotional charge because the “feeling” was connected. In other words, the emotional outburst was actually triggered because of what happened before–not necessarily the current situation.
- Help your teen become aware. With your teens permission, come up with a way to cue your teen in on her emotional escalation. A simple hand gesture or funny phrase can easily raise awareness.
- Give you teen options for the future. Share with your teen possible calming techniques for future situations. Reading a book, asking someone to listen to their side without judgment (some kids process quicker if they can verbally dump their angst), playing soft music that doesn’t further enhance their anger, or prayer and meditation are all ways to cope with negative feelings. Your teen may find other ways that will bring calm to a given situation — a bubble bath, a chat with a friend, or doing something fun with a family member that takes their mind off the pain. Encourage your teen to tell you when they are struggling. Even encouraging your teen to utter a simple statement such as “I’ve had a bad day and need to be alone or I need to process what happened” is a mature response that indicates they are becoming aware of their need to take control of their own emotional beasts.
- Share scriptures that will build confidence in your teens ability to take charge of feelings. Most of us can allow negative thoughts to spiral out of control when our feelings run amok. Scriptures that speak to their situation help our teens accept that the battle actually belongs to the Lord.
2 Corinthians 10:5
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—
Dare you to be pro-active in taming the emotional beast in your teens rather than being a reactive agent adding fuel to that already roaring flames. Teach them the skills to self-sooth their hurt and anger so they can reach full emotional maturity.
“Let go…and let God”,
Even us moms need a safe place to deal with the feelings that emerge within us as we parent during the tween and teen years. Our With All Due Respect eCourse is a great place to share and learn from other moms. And remember that you can also grab a few friends and go through the book together. Moms tell us all the time that they’ve learned so much and how their parenting responses have changed significantly since working through this curriculum. “I wish I’d read this book years ago” is a common response. We encourage you to read it and let us know what you think. It may revolutionize your parenting.