Helping your teen girl with volatile emotions

I once shared an article on Facebook written by Susan Stiffelman called Why Is My Daughter Aggressive at Home and an Angel Everywhere Else? It really connected with many mums of girls and so I’ve written this blog post to offer some other explanations and possible strategies that may help with both understanding and supporting our girls.

Firstly most girls and women have a very different way of processing emotions, especially big emotions, than our boys and men. Generally, we respond quite quickly – and over a day or a few days small emotional angst and feelings can be stored in our nervous system. Then it is a bit like an emotional barometer – it hits red hot, or totally full and it can explode!

I am sure all of you can remember an emotionally explosive experience that you regret when you have over reacted to a slight, to a rude comment, to being excluded or even to having another teen girl roll her eyes at you! You had reached your tipping point and the processing of verbal venting is a very common strategy for many of us.

Thankfully for the sisterhood – whether it be family or besties – when we catch up over a cuppa, smoothie or wine and really explore all the things happening in our lives – the good, the bad and the downright UGLY – this helps keep us emotionally stable. So, frequent moments of emotional honestly can help everyone to keep their emotional barometer away from the tipping point!

Emotional intelligence and literacy is about building our capacity to understand and manage our emotional world and the final stage of the executive functioning brain doesn’t finish until the mid 20s – as Susan writes in her article – so this is why our kids have more emotional meltdowns than most adults!

Healthy venting needs to have safe people who allow us to listen without judgement or criticism and after we have vented – often exploring our sometimes very irrational thoughts and feelings – we often sigh and feel so much better. The safe listener never repeats what they hear, that then becomes gossip especially when the vent is embellished and changed. It really is a lot like releasing hot air!

So back to our girls – they need a safe place to vent their big ugly feelings and irrational thoughts and this is why they can be seen to change from an angel to a ‘nasty pasty’ in a micro-second once they get home! Much of the venting is merely a projection of their own insecurities, frustrations and hurts, even if they direct it at you. They are striving to release the emotional tension that makes them feel crabby, dumb, useless, stupid or ugly – this is what we do sometimes with our partner or best girlfriends.

So how could you help this basic emotional need to be a little more pleasant for you and your daughter? Some suggestions:

Safe chat rituals

Create some safe chat rituals with your girl where it’s a one-on-one time, with no-one around where you share a juice, hot chocolate or tea and a special favourite biscuit or cake. Or you could do the pillow talk in the dark or maybe go for a ride in the car to the beach for a walk, feed the chooks, sit on a seat in the garden! I created a chat space on the deck for our family. Then you simply ALLOW – this is not about interrogating, asking endless questions – it simply starts with  “how are you doing today?” Often this will allow your child to update you on an old problem and to possibly open up about the ‘little things’ that are bothering her. Some days she will want to chat about something funny that has happened, or a dream she has for her future or explore her worries.

This space is different because your main job is to listen, validate and help her work out solutions or ideas to try to resolve things. ONLY give your suggestions as a last resort – or if invited – stay tuned for when they ‘lift’ emotionally and energetically, and allow them to signal when the chat is done! Reassure her how much you love her and who she is – hug if appropriate. Then keep that chat private between the two of you. Finally ask her “what can I do to support you right now?”

Take the high ground

When your daughter has an emotional vent at you remember it is a way for her to make sense of the irrationality of her emotional world and allow. Once she has discharged enough cortisol and has calmed down, consider taking the high ground and take her a symbol of love and understanding such as her favourite refreshment or snack and quietly knock on her door and silently put it next to her – with no words!

“I” statements

When she is calm I would choose a good time to chat about using “I” statements rather than “you” or “they” because an ‘I-statement’ focuses on your own feelings and experiences and can help avoid the need to blame others. “When this happened, I felt this…”

Emotions are triggered by thoughts

Remember that emotions are triggered by our thoughts that are often irrational – however being heard often allows us to realise that we may have made an incorrect assessment or choice and it simply releases the pressure in our nervous system. The more stress our girls are experiencing the more they will struggle with big ugly feelings (BUGS) or ANT attacks (ANT = Automatic Negative Thoughts) and the more they will need to vent/discharge those emotions. It may help to be mindful of other triggers in her day-to-day life. A good cry and a good laugh also release tension too!

More support…

For teen girls things can get more bumpy with hormones, brain changes, more intense emotions and the need to be more independent. Get her to check out my ebook resource, Taking the High Road, or my Kit Bag for a Bumpy Ride to help explain what is happening in her brain and how she and her friends can help each other better manage their journey to adulthood. Both of these include calming audio tracks as well as strategies to address big ugly feelings and ways to calm oneself down.

Also for teen girls I recommend Dannielle Miller’s work  – she has excellent books and posters and stickers to help girls stay positive.

Madonna King‘s book Being 14 and Michelle Mitchell‘s book Parenting Teenage Girls in the Age of a New Normal are great reads to give you insight into what life may be life for teen girls in our world today.

For Christian girls I recommend the books for girls by Sharon Witt

Rebecca Sparrow, author of books including Ask Me Anything, has published a very comprehensive list of books/sites/people to follow on social media, etc. – so check out  her ‘go-to resources for teen and tween girls’

I hope this article helps those who are struggling with the emotional volatility of their girls.

Finally, imagine you were her age again and consider “what would have helped me if I was behaving like this”?

2022 update: Maggie and Susan Stiffelman are running a masterclass called The Emotional World of Girls: Feelings, Friendships & Authenticity on 19th July (PDT)… if you can’t join live you can watch the replay whenever you like. Find out more.