Karabo Mokoena
Content producer
4 minute read
23 Jul 2021
1:06 pm

Parenting: How to deal with emotional outbursts in teens

Karabo Mokoena

Emotional outbursts in teens can be very difficult to navigate for parents, but with the right tools and connection, it is possible.

Teens are not the best with emotional expression, but parents can help. Image: iStock

For some households, emotional outbursts in teens become more common as children enter their teen years.

As a result, a lot of changes take place for them and their parents. Teenage years are one of the most complex stages of development, and without the right tools for healthy emotional expression, a lot of their behaviours can seem disrespectful and off track.

When Anne’s* teenage daughter did not stop slamming the door out of frustration, her mother decided to remove the door completely. She removed the door in her daughter’s absence, hired a handyman, and hid the toolbox and screws.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” Anne says.

Why do teenagers act out?

In our current climate, people are experiencing stress and anxiety that may affect how they behave. According to Liesl Orr, a trained parenting instructor that specialises in teens and is a teen mom, “parents should expect a lot more acting out from our children and our teens at this time”.

“It is important to note that when kids are stressed, it does not come out neatly,” Liesl adds.

They can become upset about other things due to failure of expressing their anxieties about their inability to go to school, socialise, or accept limits which can lead to emotional outbursts in teens.

These upsets can be big, and the door might get banged more than once, even after requests from mom to stop banging.

It is important to note that “teens don’t act out for no reason”.

When your child is acting up, they are experiencing pent-up emotions and they don’t have the vocabulary to express them. They may choose not to talk to you about what they are experiencing, but an acknowledgment of their emotions can set a parent and child up for a healthy conversation about emotional regulation.

ALSO READ: Conscious parenting and raising conscious children

Healthier ways to express

Banging a door is extreme, explosive and frustrating, and Liesl advises parents to connect instead of punishing emotional outbursts in teens. Removing the door, especially without them there, can be viewed as punishment.

They can be taught to rather scream into a pillow, jump up and down, or they can get a punching bag if they feel like hitting something.

The emotion is there and needs an outlet, but the outlet can be a healthy one.

Teen parenting struggles

Liesl says for parents, parenting is “unpaid, unacknowledged, and unsupported”. This means that when parents are confronted with behavioural challenges, they don’t have the resources to navigate them.

When the door is being banged for the 10th time since you asked it not to, it is easy to revert to a strategy they feel would work.

However, it is important to find ways to allow for the expression of emotion behind the explosion. It might not seem like it at the moment, but there is a big emotion at play.

Setting limits for teens

Limits are a way for parents to keep their children safe, for example, online. Knowing what your kids are doing online and who they are talking to might feel invasive to them, but the intention is their safety.

Parents can set other limits like screentime, wifi usage, or whatever they feel is appropriate for their children or their household. When their intention is the safety and protection of the child’s wellbeing, they are necessary.

Those limits, however, should not be punitive.

Removing the door, for example, is taking away your teens’ privacy, and that could affect the parent-child relationship, especially in terms of the trust. Privacy is important for teens who are at a stage where they are figuring out their identity and their place in the world.

Taking that away from them might be counterproductive.

“Limits have to be set with care rather than with harshness,” Liesl adds.

Trust and connection with teens

“When children act out they are signalling they need help. They are feeling disconnected, isolated, and overloaded with pent-up emotions,” says Liesl.

Listening to them, especially outside of the loudness of their behaviours, can be effective. A banging door is rude, but the rudeness should not outweigh the underlying emotion.

When you can, speak to your child about what is bothering them, or create a parent-child journal where they can write what is bothering them, and you respond.

Sometimes teens struggle with sitting and talking and can find it better to express themselves in other ways.

If you need more information and advice on how to navigate a difficult relationship with your teen, you can contact Liesl on liesl@handinhandparenting.org.