It doesn’t matter what you do, they’re flying off the handle – yelling, physically violent, and once that happens, there’s no calming them down.
You’ve tried supporting them, you’ve tried shutting them down, you’ve even tried punishing, yet nothing is working. Now you’re afraid to go out because the public or familial consequences of having an explosive teenager is judgement and shaming, creating isolation because you feel hopeless, powerless, and at a loss of how to move forward.
This isn’t your fault and you’re not alone in this.
You did not break your teen and you’re not a bad parent. This is more normal than you think, and I’m going to share why it’s happening and exact tools to help you, help you help your teen learn to regulate.
I was highly reactive with little filter – loud, deeply emotionally connected, and brash with big swings from one extreme to the other.
The teen brain is naturally more reactive because of their brain development during puberty through adolescence. Their hormonal changes create a hyperactive amygdala (emotional brain), sending ‘fight or flight’ responses through their body and thus explosive behaviour. Their prefrontal cortex (intellectual brain) is slow to pump the brakes and inefficient at filtering the alarms being sent by their emotional brain.
When your teen’s brain hits the alarm and goes into fight or flight, their intellectual brain is offline and unregulated, unavailable for any reasoning. This makes your efforts to ‘talk them down’ even less fruitful and more frustrating.
This temporary psychological crisis that may appear as anger, outrage, verbal, or physical violence is often the escalation of fear or hurt your teen doesn’t know how to process (or safely feel) so they act out in anger. The extreme version is Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) – a disruptive behavior disorder characterized by a pattern of angry or irritable mood, argumentative or defiant behavior, or vindictiveness lasting for at least six months that requires further interventions.
It's not your teen’s fault either.
Just as you aren’t to blame, I need you to release the perception that your teenager is doing this on purpose to be dramatic, manipulative, or controlling. That mindset will perpetuate the cycle when your teen needs YOUR developed brain to drive positive change.
5 Steps to taming the dragon
1) Show your teen it’s safe to feel – The more you make feeling emotions and talking about them normal without projecting them on anyone, the safer your teen becomes to feel their own. Being stoic so your teen sees you as ‘in control’, with greater personal control or authority makes expressing their natural range of emotions scary and unsafe so they’re more likely to try and suppress them creating a boiling pot ready to blow.
2) Model frequent emotional expression – Talk about all your all emotions, not just the happy, fluffy ones. Share your frustrating situations using ‘I’ language to normalize feeling the full range of human emotions and not expecting anyone else to be responsible for them.
‘I was so frustrated when I hit all the red lights on the way to work and got to my meeting late! I felt annoyed it had to happen this morning of all days.’
3) Demonstrate healthy coping strategies – On those days you feel unhinged and unregulated, show your teen what you do to process your emotions and bring your brain back online i.e., going for a walk (maybe take the dog), sitting in your favorite spot, writing in a journal, dancing, singing, meditation, yoga, breathing, going to the gym, etc.. Any activity that helps you process and release those challenging emotions rather than ignore, numb, or supress them is key. Bonus point for inviting your teen to join in, and helping them find a few of their own.
4) Expand your emotional vocabulary – Did you know the average adult can only effectively articulate 3-5 of the 88 different emotions our brains are capable of feeling? The more words your teen has available to name their feelings, the more empowered they’ll be to tame them without feeling overcome.
5) Normalize not being ok – Talk about the times you’ve struggled through challenging and hard times, got angry, sad or depressed. Talk about your anxieties and fears so your teen knows their own aren’t wrong, bad or anything to fear. This builds emotional safety, making it far more likely your teen will share their hard days with you without fearing judgement or criticism.
If you’re like me, you weren’t raised in a home with any of the above. Emotions were to be pleasing to your parents or kept to yourself, so you learned to disconnect. Maybe you found solace in food, alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, gambling, or other ways to avoid feeling and expressing your humanness.
This generational belief of emotions being bad, messy, unprofessional, etc., needs to change. Your teen needs you to help them break this cycle of being half human and start living a full and rich experience of life.
Take my FREE 10 Day Listening Challenge.
Many parents tell me their teen is less reactive after just 10 days because they feel heard and validated. They have less conflict and yelling and more calm conversations by making simple changes in how they listen.
Click below to get your copy of The Feeling Wheel and my two instructional videos to begin normalizing emotions and building a larger vocabulary in just a few minutes each day.
These are the two simplest and most powerful tools to taming the dragon and creating a calmer home for your teen. In just a few minutes each day, done consistently every day, change is possible.
Consistency is king, not perfection nor expecting a quick fix or declaring failure after a few weeks. Parents in my mastermind see significant changes after 3-4 weeks when their teenager believes the changes and feels safe to participate differently seeing their parents lead the way.
Parenting is HARD! You don’t have to do this alone.