Alyce Galea. Psychologist
Talking with a highly emotional teenager can be tough! When our emotions are heightened, our ability to access and use the thinking part of our brain can become really difficult, and it can be almost impossible for us to use rational thought.
Here are some tips on how best to communicate with your teen when they are in an emotional state:
1. Remain calm and check in with yourself.
There is very little benefit to trying to communicate with your teen when they are in a heightened state, and the same goes for when you are experiencing big emotions.The most helpful thing you can do in this situation is to check in with yourself and try to remain calm as best you can.
If your teens can sense your calm, they are more likely to calm themselves and be in a better position to effectively communicate with you. There is a scientific principle called neuroception that helps us understand this - when we are in the presence of a calm person, our brain picks up on those calming signals and our brain understands that we are safe. Being safe leads to feelings of calm.
2. Be present.
Although your teen may not want to have a conversation with you, it’s important that they know that you are there for them and available to talk when they are ready. That gesture alone might be enough for them to trust that you are open and willing to hear them out.
3. Take a strengths based, non judgemental approach.
Although you might not agree with how your teens behave, or how they should feel in a response to a certain situation, it’s helpful to provide a safe, non judgemental space for them to vent and talk it out.
4. Offer to listen and comfort, rather than “fix” things.
Your job is not to fix things, per se, but to coach your children, offer the support they need and encourage them to practice skills of emotion regulation and problem solving, until they find what works for them. The way we problem solve and deal with our emotions, may not be particularly helpful for our teens.
It’s important to remember that when we come to the solution for a problem ourselves, often with support from another person, we’re more likely to be able to make sense of the problem solutions and put them into practice - rather than when somebody imposes their solutions on us.
5. Expect rejection and avoid feeling disheartened.
Adjust your expectations about how the conversations might go, so that you can avoid feeling disheartened or taking things personally. Your teen might test you a little until they can trust that you genuinely care and want to help them. It may take some time and persistence to reconnect with your teen, don’t be put off. If you’re willing to make the changes to better communicate with them, they will come through.
I hope this has given you some helpful tips to be able to alter the way you communicate with your teens to build a stronger connection with them.
Contact the clinic if you are in need of parenting support or support for your teen
Alyce Galea. Psychologist
The way we communicate with others tends to fall into one of four styles: Passive, Aggressive, Passive Aggressive and Assertive. We may often adopt the one communication style in all interactions, or we communicate with different styles depending on who we are speaking with.
Let's look at the main traits of each communication style...
Passive: Passive communicators have a tendency to avoid expressing their feelings or opinions, and shy away from standing up for themselves and their rights. This is often due to a fear of conflict, low confidence or anxiety about how people will respond to them. Because they don’t feel comfortable expressing themselves, they will often harbour resentment and let emotions buildup until they reach breaking point. Following an emotional outburst, they may feel shame and guilt, and return to being passive again.
Aggressive: Aggressive communicators sit at the other end of the spectrum. They are very confident in expressing themselves and getting what they want, regardless of how their actions affect others. They often issue commands, are bad listeners and often lack empathy for the feelings of others.
Passive Aggressive: Passive Aggressive communicators appear passive on the surface, but often express subtle or indirect aggressions. They are often aware of their needs and emotional experiences, but struggle to express them in a helpful way. Instead of openly communicating what they need or how they feel, they may instead express their grievances or annoyances through giving someone the silent treatment, spreading rumours, or making sarcastic or unhelpful remarks. These communicators often feel powerless, stuck and resentful because they are unable to effectively express themselves.
Assertive: Assertive communicators are able to express their needs and feelings in a healthy and helpful way. They are empathetic and aware of how their actions may impact on someone, and are able to negotiate ways of having their needs met, without being overbearing, rude or hurting others. Assertive communicators understand that they may not get what they want all of the time, but are willing to compromise if it means having some of their needs met.
When communication breaks down, it’s often because the ways we communicate and the habits we’ve formed often get in the way. We might have good intentions and an idea of how we would like to express ourselves going into a conversation with our teens, but as emotions heighten and we find ourselves feeling frustrated or impatient, what we want to say and how we want to say it might come out wrong or get misunderstood, leading to further breakdowns in our communication with them.
The good news is that with practice, we can improve the way we relate and communicate with others!
For more personalised support around communication and relationships in your life, please book in with one of our friendly psychologists.