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Written by Registered Counsellor, Ginger Henderson

Are you struggling with a teen who seems to be in a heightened emotional state regularly? Does your teen's behaviour seem out of the normal realm of “teen hood”? There is a handful of tactics I encourage parents to use in order to de-escalate conflict within the home.


When you stop and think, what verbal and non-verbal message is your teen getting from their parents, family and other significant adults in their lives? Are they feeling respected, understood and supported? Yes, we must set our own boundaries for respect from our teens, however, what are we modelling? I often see parents having difficulty understanding what teens find significant, or the way the world has changed, for example: social media, cellphone use, need for validation. However, a parent's uncertainty can come across as a lack of respect for what is influential to a teen. We must be observing our own behaviour when we are seeking change within our home. A teen feeling lost, misunderstood or who has a need not being met, will act out. It is our job as parents to help them learn the tools to get those needs met appropriately. Are you sending out a message that you are open for unbiased discussions, that even if they made a large mistake they can turn to you? I hear from teens often that they will ‘test’ their parents with small issues to see how they will react, in order to see what would happen if they confided in them regarding a bigger issue. I understand that when you have a teen acting out it is hard to want to sympathize and remain calm, reminding yourself that the more supported they feel the higher the chance they will want to connect with you.


You are going to want to catch your teen in a calm mood and then explain it is time to have a brief chat. I will emphasis the word brief; they don't have the capacity to process the amount of information we would often like them to retain. It is also vital to have the communication feel more collaborative and less of a lecture. So you have your teen calm and ready to talk, now what? Ask questions! The goal here is to have your teen understand you want to help them feel better. Some of my top recommendations:

*What is not working for you around here?

*What do you think we need from you?

*Is there something from us that you need to help you feel a calmer?

*If we could both change one thing, what do you think we EACH should change?

*How do you think you can help us have a better relationship with you?

*Do you need a hug?

Asking questions, and actively listening to their responses, helps each of you feel heard and promotes a change that is seen by everyone as collaborative. This also is a great step towards your teen communicating assertively, the most successful from of communication. These are all aspects of a healthy adult, which is our ideal result when raising teens.


Is your teen one who needs downtime, for example, a dark quiet environment like a bath with candles, their own time out room or space that has peaceful music and low stimuli? Perhaps they need a physical outlet such as sports, fresh air or hiking? It is important for you, and your teen, to understand how they best recover from a demanding situation, or recharge after being ‘on’ all day at school or with peers. Individually, we all have different needs when it comes to our stress-reducing outlet, understand your own and your teens can help when they may need guidance after a taxing event, such as a conflict. Encourage having healthy ways of distressing as a family, start with asking them what works for them. An example of this would be: “ when you feel overwhelmed do you get an urge to run in the fresh air or would you rather a quiet space?" Again asking questions helps them get to know themselves, it also shows you want to hear from them. Once you have clear idea of their type of outlet, help them understand when and how to use it.


With all the stressors, our teens are facing now days, matched with the yet to be developed brain function needed for efficient cognitive functioning, it is common for a teen to lack the skill of emotional self-regulation. As a parent, we can help them learn how to stop and check in with themselves by giving them some important focus points. As always, we must keep in mind, that a calm brain in an open brain, meaning if your teen is heightened you will need to help them be calm before there can be space to focus.

I like to teach the teens I work with, (and adults), the top five check in topics. I refer to them as their "pause and ponder" moments :

* What am I saying to myself that isn't helping?

* What do I need to be different right now, and what role can I play in this change?

* What is my motivation for this behaviour I am choosing, is there a better way of going about this?

* How can I look at the big picture here?

* How can I learn from that difficult situation that just occurred, my role/their role and what could have led to a more positive outcome?

A teen who learns how to check in with themselves, with the pause and ponder skill set explained above, is well on their way to purposeful self-regulation. These skills also promote independence and self-awareness, both qualities curb the need for heightened behaviour.


If the environment within the home is mostly surrounding conflict, your teen may not know how to change the atmosphere, so teach them. Learn how and when to call a pause" “ Things feel so tense, let's take a break and play an old card game, take the dog to the park, or make your favourite meal.” We want our teens to feel that home, and our relationship with them, is their safe place, and although there may be conflict it's okay to press pause, connect, and then return to the conversation. I recommend coming up with a “pause fun list” with each other, again when things are calm, collaborate on ideas of easy activities to do jointly. This way when the environment feels strained, it is less daunting to pick an activity to break the ice. These pause and connect moment help maintain the bond, even when things feel tense, teaching your teen that your relationship is stronger than the conflict. We must remember how difficult it can be to be a teen, and with the online world our kids are living in today, they need us more than ever. They need to know we are resourceful, safe and will guide them through these complicated and overwhelming years. Setting boundaries and teaching them how to learn from their emotions and experiences, while supporting them unconditionally, is the best way to raise confident and self-directed adults.

As a parent of two, 20 and 18, I can empathize greatly with parents who are struggling with the balance of boundary setting, support, discipline and the steep learning curb of keeping up with their ever-changing environment. We must be kind to ourselves, take time for self-care and focus on what we can change. At times, it takes a village, and if you look around the village and notice it is quite large and easily accessible. Ask for help, from family, friends, your teens' school or a professional such as myself. Our kids need us to be healthy and calm in order to be that source of strength they often cannot be for themselves.

Closing Thoughts

It is vital that you investigate there isn't something more serious going on such as: generalized anxiety disorder, depression, an eating disorder, or a possible learning disability, etc. If any of these significant difficulties, or others are present, or you are unsure; you will want to investigate further and bring in professional supports.

As a registered Counsellor, with a private practice in Victoria B.C., I am happy to help patent’s, teens and families find a more effective way of communicating. If your family needs assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact me.


101-4475 VIEWMONT AVE.



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