10 Secrets to Help Teens Emotionally Grow-Up

Sometimes it feels like it takes forever for teen’s emotional intelligence to kick in. Emotional matuirity is incredibly important for teens as they experience the highs and lows of hormones, the drama of high school and the pressure of college. Here are a few of my secrets for how parents can help their teens develop emotional intelligence:


1. Learning to Name

Rudolf Dreikurs once said: “Children are great perceivers, but poor interpreters.” This saying only becomes more true as children become teenagers. Teens often can perceive even the subtlest shifts in moods, but have trouble translating and responding appropriately to those feelings. sometimes imitate and do not understand why they are imitating. One of the greatest skills parents can teach teens is to learn to label their emotions and confusing emotions in others. This teaches them that first, emotions are important and second, helps them distinguish between feelings to know how to respond. Help teens and children name emotions they feel to give them a large vocabulary of emotional feelings.

2. Self-Maps


This is a difficult concept to explain in a paragraph (usually I have a few hours with a client), but I’ll try! Everyone has different patterns of thinking and ways of reflecting on ourselves and others. I call these ‘self-maps.’


A ‘me-map’ is how you think about and treat yourself and how your thinking and actions usually take shape—are you typically positive or negative, do you fall into patterns of denial or self-blame, etc.

A ‘you-map’ would be how your relationship is with another person. How do you feel about them and how does that effect how you act towards them—is one person more in power than another, who typically initiates contact, etc.

A ‘we-map’ is the outline of a group and how it thinks and behaves. Does a group have a certain tempo to it—is a group loud and rowdy, or silly and daring and how do members interact as a whole.


Self-maps are how we perceive the flow of information between people or ourselves and how we bond in our relationships. Talking to your teen about self-maps is an incredibly important tool to give them self-reliance and emotional intelligence. It helps them step-out of their immediate and look at their thinking and relationships objectively. It is how our internal world might be visible to another.


3. Blame Patterns


Like self-maps, blame patterns are how someone assigns blame in the time of wrong-doing. This is an incredibly important concept for teens to understand about themselves and the people who they regularly communicate with in their lives. What are your teen’s patterns in terms of blame? Do they take on the victim role and blame themselves as a martyr? Do they blame the world at large or other people—strangers or friends? Once we recognize our blame patterns and the blame patterns of those around us, we can often use these skills to help us when we are in emotional turmoil.


4. Forgiveness Program


Forgiveness is a powerful emotional tool for teens to develop. When your teen is calm, I challenge you to talk to them about a forgiveness program. As teens get older, fighting in the home often increases so having a forgiveness program in place can be a great tool. First, have a signal to recognize or name the upset and emotions at play. Are family members angry, scared, vulnerable, and disappointed? Once named, talk to them about the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, it means moving forward. There are also many positive benefits of forgiveness. Talk to them about past occurrences where forgiveness was granted or not. Ask them how do you know you have been forgiven? Why do you think the person did or did not forgive you? Do you think the person you hurt felt better or worse after they forgave you? How did you feel after you were forgiven? How about if they did not forgive you? Role play empathy and forgiveness and how it might feel to be in the offender’s shoes. In this way you can come up with a strategy for forgiveness when you get into a fight.


5. Self-Soothing


John Gottman has done some incredible emotional intelligence research and found that children who can regulate their emotions are better at soothing themselves when they are upset. This means that they experience negative emotions such as fear and anger for a shorter period of time. You can teach teens and children to self-sooth by learning to cultivate mistakes.  On activity is to talk regularly about mistakes made and then how we learn from them. It is also great for parents to talk about their own mistakes and how they have not only learned from them, but also how they got out of the bad mood they caused.


6. Don’t Avoid Bad Feelings


I think we forget that our goal is not to help kids from feeling bad, but to help them understand the bad feelings and then move on from them. Often times when we deny feelings they just rear their ugly head down the line. Feelings buried alive never die. As much as we want to tell teens to move-on, suck it up or get over it, processing whatever they are going through is a great lesson in emotional maturity. This also helps them see you as an ally if and when bigger ‘bad’ feelings occur later.


7. How’d You Switch Moods?


With younger kids it is great to narrate your own emotions if you disappointed, jealous, frustrated, etc and how you are dealing with them. You cannot always do this with teens. However, talking through how you recognize negative emotions AND how you create positive ones can be very valuable. Showing them how you get yourself out of a bad mood is an invaluable life skill.


8. A Mood For Every Place


Teach them the idea of self-states. Everyone is a little different in each area of their life. You have a school self, a home state, even different moods for people in your life. What teens need to find is their core self and know how this translates or modifies—in a healthy way depending on where they are in life. This also teaches them boundaries and balance between the different areas of their life.


9. Emosocial Intelligence

EmoSocial intelligence is a combination of emotional and social intelligence. It is first, a person’s ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself and then be able to effectively interact, maintain and build relationships with others. Teaching social literacy involves teaching young people communication and social skills, as well as showing them how to effectively and purposefully mediate their interactions with family members, friends and colleagues in the school or business environment. Some of examples of social literacy issues might include lack of eye contact, understanding angry feelings versus fear or being able to deal successfully with confrontation.

10. Teens aren’t “finished” yet.

I think we sometimes forget that teens are not ‘finished people.’ I often forget this while working with teens that you cannot work with them on strategies and solutions and  then expect a finished product. There is no finished product! We hope and expect them to fix issues, work through problems and grow-up. However, as humans—especially as young humans we never stop changing.


We have to remember helping teens with their emotional intelligence is not an ongoing battle, but a lifelong growth process.

This is part of EmoSocial Intelligence series. If you would like to read more articles on how to read and build nonverbal communication skills in your family or with your child, please visit our EmoSocial Intelligence page for tips and updated research.


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  1. 4/15/11: Articles for Parents this Week | Radical Parenting - April 15, 2011

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