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Parenting Press: Offering Older Children & Teens Support When They’re Upset

Parenting Tip—Refrain from offering advice or attempting to “fix” a problem for your teen.

In earlier editions of “Tips,” we have looked at ways parents can respond to a young child who is emotionally upset to the point of a tantrum. This week we’ll look at responding to your older, school-age child or teen when she is upset.

When children are young, it’s easy to fix a minor upset with a hug and kiss on the “owie.” As children grow older, however, we want them to increasingly rely on themselves to “make it better.” This doesn’t mean hugging is out of the question, but it does mean a sympathetic ear and ready shoulder will be more helpful to them than offering solutions.

Elizabeth Crary, parent educator and author of Dealing with Disappointment: Helping Kids Cope When Things Don’t Go Their Way, writes, “There is no magic age when you suddenly stop comforting a child and expect her to take charge. Instead, gradually turn over responsibility for dealing with feelings to the child. [As children grow] you begin by comforting the child, then offering choices, then reminding the child she has options, then backing off and offering support.”

 Parenting Press...Dealing with Disappointment

Tools—As children grow older and more skilled at identifying and dealing with their own feelings, parents and caregivers need to move more into the roles of observer and supporter. Crary points out that offering unsolicited advice to a teen is fraught with peril—their emotions are usually complex and they don’t welcome unasked-for advice.

“Teens need acceptance of their feelings and support while they think through things themselves” writes Crary. “When parents label feelings or offer choices for the situation, they often feel put down. The very responses that are helpful with younger children are insulting to teens.”

Instead of giving advice or peppering a teen with questions, Crary advises offering comments like, “Well, I’m here if you want me for anything,” or “Let me know if I can help you.” When a teen does launch into a litany of the day’s woes, make your responses low key—“Hmm,” “Oh?” and “Really.” Be patient and wait for your teen to begin generating solutions herself.

You’ll find more practical tips you can use right now in Dealing with Disappointment: Helping Kids Cope When Things Don’t Go Their Way by Elizabeth Crary, M.S.

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