There are no bad emotions, Dr. Maisha Syeda told parents/guardians and other caregivers in West Mississauga in January.
The clinical psychologist and adjunct assistant professor at Western University was presenting two workshops as part of a series on Promoting Positive Youth Development.
What frustrates many about teens’ behaviours is the thoughtless actions that accompany many of their emotions.
Adolescents can’t really help having their big emotions, Dr. Syeda notes. Teens’ brains are going through tremendous changes that outpace their ability to regulate.
In the meantime, you can become their emotion coach.
“Emotion coaching means that we stand beside our teenagers and guide them in a process…of how to deal with [their emotions],” explains Dr. Syeda.
She suggests five steps. The first is Attend — paying close attention to the emotions that a teenager displays, as well as your own reactions. The second is to Label the teens’ emotions as closely as possible. Behaviours that may suggest anger could actually be one of the other primary emotions, such as shame. The third step is to Validate the emotion without dismissing its importance. Meet the Emotional Need is the fourth step. Emotions assist in protecting us. They help alert us when we need to act, such as fleeing danger when we are afraid. When your teen has outsized emotions, you can help them develop strategies to get what they need. These could be sitting quietly alone when sad or gaining reassurance when ashamed.
Maria Ibanez, a doctoral student in the School and Applied Child Psychology program at Western University, contributed the fifth step that is used less frequently. Collaborative Problem Solving is employed when both you and your teen acknowledge that extra guidance is needed, perhaps from school contacts, the community or health care.
Learn more about becoming an emotion coach. Dr. Syeda recommends watching Workshop #1 first to fully understand why teenagers have big emotions. Progress to Workshop #2 to learn the art of showing empathy when teenagers are emotionally overwhelmed. Each video is about 53 minutes. Accompanying handouts in English, Urdu and Arabic are below.