Putting Feelings into Words

How Teenagers Communicate About Feelings

Expressing Intense Feelings

Teens often don’t know what to do with overwhelming feelings such as anxiety, frustration, fear and anger. When teens feel stressed out, a coping mechanism that often occurs is the explosion technique, states psychotherapist Debbie Pincus, with the Empowering Parents website. The teenager may hold emotions inside until the feelings explode in your face in a messy jumble of mixed up emotions.

Lack of Communication

Teenagers may decide to hide difficult feelings such as sadness, fear and anger, according to Jane Framingham, with the Psych Central website. You may notice signs of depression if a teenager isn’t sharing feelings effectively. The feelings may come out in bursts of irritability, sarcasm and hostility, often aimed at family members. If your teen shows signs of misdirected anger and hostility, your teen may need help communicating feelings.

Communication Clues

Sometimes a teenager might need to talk, but can’t quite take the first step to start a conversation, advises the American Academy of Pediatrics. This is the time your adolescent needs you to catch her clues and initiate a conversation. Some possible signs your teenager wants to talk include asking questions about your own childhood, asking questions about an anonymous friend or leaving reading material about a situation open to catch your eye.

Positive Communication

Make yourself available for communicating with your teen every day. Try to find ways to connect with your teenager so your teenager has an opportunity to talk, if desired. Having a meal together or just hanging out at home can be times when your teenager could grab you to talk if he needs to. When your teenager does talk, be an effective listener to encourage your teen to share feelings. Effective listening involves maintaining eye contact, showing interest, asking questions and reiterating what you think you understand. Resist the urge to criticize or judge your teen. Many adolescents will quickly clam up and stop talking if they feel your judgment, advises West Virginia Family Connections.

How to Deal With an Upset Teenager

Try to figure out how he's feeling before you say or do anything. An upset teen could be angry or could just be sad or bothered by something that happened recently. A teen who's always upset might be dealing with deeper issues, such as bullying, feelings of abandonment or other problems at school or home. Aim to know what's going on before you sit down for a talk -- teens might be reluctant to talk about some issues unless you bring them up.

Avoid accusations or scolding. These can make things worse and might cause your teen to shut down. Even worse, it could cause your teen to stop trusting you with his problems, so you'll be left in the dark regarding what's going on or how to help.

Practice active listening. Ask a question or two and then let your teen speak -- even if it feels as though he's just rambling and avoiding the main details. Pay attention and use affirming words like "I understand" or "OK" while listening, so your teen knows you're paying attention. Don't interrupt the story to offer your opinion or to add useless comments such as, "I knew that was going to happen." The only thing that's going to accomplish is upsetting your teen more.

Give your teen space. Just because you're asking doesn't mean your teen will want to talk about what's bothering him. If you notice that your teen is upset, ask what's going on and offer to listen. If he says he doesn't want to talk, let him know you're available to listen whenever he's ready -- and then walk away.

Help your teen work on his problem-solving skills. In many cases, being upset is caused by not knowing how to deal with a circumstance, according to the Center for Young Women's Health. If your teen is willing to talk while he's upset, try to help him figure out what the problem is, what caused it and what he could do to solve the problem. Or work with him when he's not upset, so he can learn the skills he needs to apply them during difficult times.

How to Teach Children to Put Feelings Into Words

Model the behavior you want your child to demonstrate. If you want him to learn to take deep breaths and talk calmly about the way he feels, you should do the same when you get upset or frustrated. Your child will learn a great deal when you demonstrate self-control and set a good example to follow.

Teach your child to ACT when he gets mad or upset, suggests the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website HealthyChildren.org. "A" stands for "acknowledge," directing your child to acknowledge his feelings and notice how his body changes when he experiences that feeling. “C” stands for "calm down," instructing your child to breathe deeply, count to 10, walk away from the situation or participate in a constructive, enjoyable activity. “T” stands for "think and talk." Help your child think about ways to solve the issue. Talking to someone can help the child feel better instead of yelling or fighting.

Be an active listener for your child. Focus on his verbal message and the feelings behind it. Listen attentively to your child when he is talking to you about how he feels and then respond with feeling words. For instance, when you see your child crossing his arms and sitting by himself with a scowl, you can approach him by saying “I see that you’re upset. Do you want to talk about it?” Let him talk and respond by reflecting or repeating what you hear. Help lead him through some problem-solving techniques without taking over.

Hang a feeling chart up in your child’s bedroom. If she has a hard time using words, this can be a stepping stone in the right direction. When you want your child to identify her feelings, have her walk up to the chart, point to the picture that demonstrates how she feels and say “I feel …"

How to Handle Teen Outbursts

Stay calm. Even if your teen is yelling, shouting and howling, keep your cool. While she might not want to acknowledge it right now, you're still a leading role model in her life. Your reaction to heated outbursts demonstrates to your teen what is appropriate and what is not when she is upset.

Do not yell back, even if you're just trying to be heard over his ruckus. A teenager's brain differs in some ways from an adult's brain. There is much higher activation in a teen's amygdala, the emotional center, than in an adult's brain. When you yell, your teen likely will react automatically to your decibel level, which just escalates the problem.

Listen to what is frustrating your teenager. She's yelling, so you might as well hear what she is trying to say. While it might be more ideal if she brought down the decibel level, this is an opportunity to try to discern information about what caused the outburst. If you already know the cause -- maybe she's grounded or you won't give in to a request -- she's probably telling you exactly why she disagrees with your decision. Think of this time as an opportunity for your teen to vent and for you to pick out some droplets of information from the steam.

Validate his feelings. Teens often spout lines such as, “You don't care" or “You don't understand." Instead of criticizing him for his emotions, let him know you do care, you do understand how he feels and you're willing to work out a solution together. For example, “I understand that you want to go out with your friends every night, but it's important for you to get your homework done. Let's work out something to help you stay on track with your homework and get as much time in with your friends as possible."

Talk about the outburst at a later time when her temper has cooled. While your teenager might still be upset, telling her that her outbursts are not appropriate probably won't help. Wait until later and tell your teenager how her outbursts make you feel. Turn it into a positive discussion about other ways to talk about troubling circumstances and feelings and how to blow off steam.

How to Help Your Teen With Homesickness

Talk with your teen about his impending departure. Ignoring the inevitable will not make the transition any easier. Discuss the separation and tell your teen that feelings of homesickness are normal. Your teen will better accept and address these feelings if she anticipates them, according to KidsHealth.org.

Share items from home. Before your teen departs, give him a few items that remind him of home. He can carry a family picture while he is away or bring one of his favorite items, such as a pillow or blanket, from his bedroom. Those items allow him to take a piece of home with him wherever he goes.

Speak positively about the experience. Do not dwell on sadness or negativity before your teen leaves. Do not talk about how hard it will be for you to be apart. Instead, focus on the positives of the trip, discussing the experiences and benefits that your teen will enjoy after she leaves.

Maintain regular contact with your teen -- he will feel less homesick if he talks to you regularly, whether it's by phone, through text message or via email. With today's technology, staying in contact has never been easier. You can even video-chat with your teen, allowing you to see him and connect with him in a more personal way.

Encourage your teen to find a confidant. Having someone to connect with while he is away can help your teen stay emotionally balanced. Finding a trusted adult to talk to or a peer with similar feelings of homesickness can help your teen confront these feelings and move past them, according to KidsHealth.org.

Promote activity. Dwelling on the homesickness can make the separation even more challenging for a teen. Encourage your teen to stay active, whether she is throwing herself into classes, a new job or activities. This way, your teen will enjoy the experience rather than worrying about what she is missing out on at home.

Suggest that he keeps a journal. Writing about feelings can help your teen cope with them. A journal allows teens to express their feelings, evaluate them and improve his outlook. Rather than repressing their feelings, teens should confront their homesickness in an effort to improve it.