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.
by Georgina Psomiadis, Clinical Psychologist
You are surely familiar with the concept of separation anxiety, particularly in children. The tears and clinginess that could be experienced when a child first separates from their parents. Of course, it’s very appropriate for young children to experience some mild anxiety when they first start school or spend their first night away, though with some practice, are soon able to regulate themselves during times of separation because they know their caregiver will come back for them. Then there are children who are not able to regulate themselves and continue to show signs of distress for an extended period of time.
In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - Fifth Edition (DSM-5, 2013), Separation Anxiety Disorder is categorised by showing developmentally inappropriate and excessive fear or anxiety concerning separation from those to whom the individual is attached for at least 4 weeks in children and adolescents (if not better explained by another condition such as refusal to leave home because of excessive resistance to change in autism spectrum disorder, amongst other conditions). In this most recent edition of the DSM-5, adults have now been included in this diagnosis, though the length of excessive fear lasts for more than 6 months.
One of the major theories that inform separation anxiety is Attachment Theory, first founded by John Bowlby then extended by Mary Ainsworth. The basic perspective of Attachment Theory is that the kind of bonds we have in our early life shapes the kind of relationships we form as adults. The developing child builds up a set of models of the self and others, based on repeated patterns of interactive experience. These internal working models are thought to form relatively fixed representational models which the child uses to predict and relate to the world.
A securely attached child will store an internal working model of a responsive, loving, reliable caregiver, and of a self that is worthy of love and attention and will bring these assumptions to bear on all other relationships. On the other hand, an insecurely attached child may view the world as a dangerous place in which other people are to be treated with caution, and see themselves as ineffective and unworthy of love.
Within the first 6 months of life, parental responsiveness is a fundamental factor impacting the quality of attachment. This is where mirroring responses are crucial. The onset of a smiling response at 4 weeks marks the beginning of the cycles of interaction between the caregivers and their baby. The baby’s smile evokes a mirroring smile in their parent; the more they smile back the more the baby responds, and so on. These are called ‘mirroring’ responses because it is thought that what the baby sees when their caregivers copy their expressions, is in fact, themselves… i.e., they are developing their sense of self. The physical holding, protection, nurturing and caring that is also felt by the infant further creates the sense of inner security.
Between 6 months and 3 years old, the goal for the child is to keep close enough to their caregiver, to use them as a secure base for exploration (i.e., separation) when the environmental threat is at a minimum, and to exhibit separation protest or signalling danger when the need arises. The over-anxious parent may inhibit the child’s exploratory behaviour, making them feel stifled or smothered; conversely, the parent that may not have the capacity to be attuned to the child’s needs may inhibit exploration by failing to provide a secure base, leading to feelings of anxiety or abandonment.
Attachment relationships continue to evolve throughout the lifespan. The child-parent relationship forms the primary attachment figures until adolescence, which is when peer relationships become the primary attachment figures, then romantic relationships in adulthood.
If a child has developed an early insecure attachment and an internal working model/core belief that others can’t be trusted and they are unlovable, there is a tendency for later peer and romantic relationships to reinforce and strengthen this internal working model. For example, a teenager with this internal working model may act either by avoiding developing close relationships, being ‘clingy’ or controlling of others, which would elicit undesired responses from others that will reinforce their initial core belief.
How can therapy reduce or eliminate excessive separation anxiety?
A key element in psychological therapy, whether that is for children, adolescents or adults is for the therapist to become a ‘safe base’ that the patient can feel secure to ‘explore’, whether that is the exploration of the physical environment for young children (play) or their internal world (adolescents and adults). Many of the elements that foster a secure early attachment as outlined in Attachment Theory are typically utilised in therapy (i.e., mirroring, being highly attuned/sensitive to the patient’s needs, support, validation, unconditional positive regard) so the patient can first start to develop a secure sense of themselves, which only after this is achieved can extend to feeling secure with significant others. Of course, as parents tend to enact their own attachment style onto their children, parenting support and explicit teaching of responses that foster a secure attachment, especially for young children is also an essential component of therapy.