How To Help Your Daughter Handle The Teenage Emotional Rollercoaster
Jul 24, 2017
From where you are standing, it may feel as though helping your teenage daughter to manage her emotions is as achievable as scaling Everest. It is true, teenagers are hard to live with at times. Take a look at the following quote from Anna Freud, a 20th century psychologist and daughter of Sigmund Freud.
“I take it that it is normal for an adolescent to behave for a considerable length of time in an inconsistent and unpredictable manner; to fight her impulses and accept them; to love her parents and to hate them; to revolt against them and be dependent on them; to be deeply ashamed to acknowledge her mother before others and, unexpectedly, to desire heart-to-heart talks with her; to thrive on imitation of others while searching unceasingly for her own identity; to be more idealistic, artistic, generous, and unselfish than she will ever be again, but also the opposite: self-centered, egoistic, calculating. Such fluctuations and extreme opposites would be deemed highly abnormal at any other time of life. At this time they may signify no more than that an adult structure of personality takes a long time to emerge, that the individual in question does not cease to experiment and is in no hurry to close down on possibilities.”
All of the craziness we experience when living with a teenage girl is likely to be no more than healthy development. And while it can be concerning to observe, it can be just as upsetting for your daughter to experience.
An Emotional Rollercoaster
Anna Freud hit the proverbial nail on the head with the quotation above. The emotions of teenagers and girls, in particular, can be extremely erratic. It can be impossible to predict her reactions to stimuli she meets throughout the day, and as a parent, it can feel overwhelming.
The calmer years that precede adolescence may have lulled you into a false sense of security. But suddenly the teenage years have arrived, and with it, the terrible 2s, round 2. The teenage brain literally remodels itself much like it did in the toddler years. This is explained in a great article by David Dobbs, in the National Geographic.
“The first full series of scans of the developing adolescent brain… showed that our brains undergo a massive reorganisation between our 12th and 25th years. The brain doesn't actually grow very much during this period. It has already reached 90 percent of its full size by the time a person is six, and a thickening skull accounts for most head growth afterward. But as we move through adolescence, the brain undergoes extensive remodelling, resembling a network and wiring upgrade.”
Therefore, it makes sense that teenagers act in such intense and emotionally charged ways. That is literally how they are feeling. This hypersensitivity is exacerbated by the fact the that the calming input of the frontal cortex isn’t functioning fully yet either, as it does in adults.
All of this shows us that teens are not simply victims of their hormones. It goes far beyond that, to the point where your daughter may even fear that her intense emotions are evidence that something is wrong with her.
What She Wants
Now that we have a little more understanding of what is happening inside the mind of your teenage daughter, you may start to see that she doesn’t behave in uncharacteristically rude or abrupt ways just to annoy you.
Your daughter is seeking independence and setting new limits. She wants freedom and recognition. She doesn’t want to be pushed into anything that feels uncomfortable. But additionally, she still wants to have her needs met. She wants a roof over her head, hot meals and lifts to her social engagements.
But, what she really wants is to be understood, a tall order when even she is still learning who she really is. But if you are aware of the motivations behind her erratic behaviour, that can be helpful.
How You Can Help
There is little that you can do to stop your teenage daughter from experiencing the challenging emotions that are washing through her on a daily basis. But there are specific things that you can do, to make life at home easier - for everyone who has to live there!
Let Her Offload
School life can be very demanding, even when it is not exam time. Days can feel long and tedious, with social issues sprinkled throughout. Your daughter will be governed by rules and restrictions, and forced to learn things that she doesn’t feel will be useful to her future self.
Still, she is mature enough to know that she can’t act out at school, so she will most likely save her frustrations until she gets home. You likely will become a soundboard for moaning, venting and complaints.
At other times, she may not even talk it out, she might just be generally grumpy and irritable for no good reason.
Allow her to offload within reason. The next steps will suggest ways to manage the process helpfully.
2. Stick To Boundaries
Allowing your teenage daughter to offload her frustrations onto you is not a free pass for rudeness. Do not accept impolite behaviour, no matter how bad her day has been. The bottom line is that you are still the parent, not a friend. This is one lesson that you must enforce.
If your daughter is too angry to talk it out, send her to get some space to calm down.
3. Try Not To Judge or Fix It
Being a sounding board requires patience. Typical parent ‘listening’ involves waiting for a break in the sentence stream to interject with ‘advice’. This is one sure way to shut the communication lines down with your teenage daughter.
Don’t just dish out your recommendations. Instead, really listen to what is being said. Then ask if your daughter would like to hear your take on a situation. If she doesn’t want to hear your thoughts, keep quiet - unless you are genuinely concerned by what you are hearing.
Most of the time, your daughter will just want to be heard. She will feel better for releasing her woes to you, so resist the urge to take it personally, and hold a space for her to speak freely.
4. Don’t Minimise Her Feelings
Something that many parents are guilty of, is brushing off a child’s concerns as unimportant. Resist the urge to minimise her feelings, no matter if you think she is overreacting. As we have seen, the teenage brain is working very hard to remodel, and the sheer force of emotions your daughter is dealing with can be exhausting.
Instead, try reassuring her that her strong feelings and swings between moods are normal. The great news is that feeling emotional discomfort can help your daughter to discover who she really is. It can help her to mature and grow. So while it may be hard for you to watch her suffer, remember that these feelings are like the irritation that causes the oyster to create a pearl.
5. When It Gets Tough
If your daughter seems to be struggling, and venting isn’t enough to alleviate her worries, there are further steps you can take.
- One suggestion is to name her feelings, and speak with empathy, recognising exactly what she is going through.
- If she is particularly fixated on an emotion, distraction can be useful. Take her out for a walk in the fresh air, or use a guise such as an errand you need her help with.
- Remind her to be mindful of posting emotional blow outs online. Social media generally adds to the drama, which can be very hard to undo.
The Bottom Line
Your teenage daughter is facing a tough part of her life right now. Her brain, hormones, physical body and peers are all changing around her. Things are scary and intense, and her urges are screaming at her to be independent. The result is typically a turbulent relationship at home with parents, who only want the best for her.
With this insight into the challenges she is dealing with, you might be able to support her when emotions get too strong. This will hopefully make some of the storms easier to weather, but be aware of any behaviour that may require professional help. Look out for changes in appetite, inability to sleep and lack of interest in things she used to enjoy.
The reality is, most teenage girls will act in ways that seem incomprehensible and nonsensical. But it is just a part of her growing up.