Before you can deal with a problem or emotion, you have to be able to name it and describe it. This goes double for teens. The problem is that their vocabulary for describing what they’re feelings is seriously limited. When was the last time you got more than happy, mad, sad, angry, upset or p***ed-off from them?
Let’s go back to Emotional Intelligence (EQ) again. “Self-awareness is the ability to recognize emotions as you feel them. When kids tune in to their feelings, they can learn to understand and manage them.” So they need to be aware that they’re in an emotional state and recognize what they’re feeling, before they can do something about it.
It’s critical to ‘name it to tame it.’ Since teens and tweens are more reactive than reflective, you’re going to have to help them through this process. Here is where you become a teacher, and you can do it simply by teaching by example.
1) Brainstorm a list of words that describe difficult emotions. (There are more than 100 of them.) Write them down and say them out loud every day so they are there when you need them.
2) Be honest in expressing your own feelings. Rather than being emotional, express what you’re feeling. Use the list from #1. Kids learn from you how to speak, act and react.
3) Listen carefully to what your kids are telling you and pay special attention to the feelings underlying their words.
4) Reflect back what you think you’re hearing. Now they are hearing new, hopefully more accurate, words that they can start to use themselves.
You are the most important teacher your child will ever have. When you follow these steps, you teach without nagging, lecturing and controlling. There’s no better way to get your message across than by just doing what you want them to do.
* (I borrowed this expression from a fascinating book, Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, by Dr. Daniel Siegel.)