Tips for Coaching Teens to Recognize and Manage Emotions

Key points

  • As teens grow, learning to understand and manage their emotions is an essential life skill that contributes to their overall well-being, success, and happiness.
  • Responding to your teen's emotions calmly and with empathy will help them to model those behaviors in their own lives.


An important part of your relationship with your teen is helping them notice and manage their emotions. Adolescence is a time of many physical, social, and emotional changes. Teen brains are developing rapidly, and their bodies are experiencing hormone increases. However, the part of the brain involved in decision-making and managing emotions is still under construction. This often leads to teens being moody and experiencing a wide range of emotions. Teens experience more mood fluctuations than younger children and don't yet manage emotions as well as adults.

That's where you come in! Below are some things to keep in mind when you observe your teen expressing emotions.

Observe your teen's emotions

Use your observation skills to become aware that your teen is experiencing emotions. What does your teen look like when they're feeling different emotions–happy, sad, frustrated, scared, interested, inspired, or excited? Look for clues in their facial expressions, voice, and body language.

Work with your teen to build a shared list of words to describe the different emotions they may experience. It's probably going to take some practice for you both to notice and identify the emotions your teen is feeling. Be kind to yourselves as you try things out.

Pause before responding instead of reacting to your teen

It's common for parents to find themselves getting upset and reacting negatively to something their teen says or does. When this happens, remember to pause. Take a deep breath or take a break before talking with your teen.

Pausing for 10 to 30 seconds or taking time to get calm when you are emotional is easier said than done! You're probably going to forget that you can pause in some situations. You may feel awkward and think you're not doing it right. Pausing is a practice. Keep practicing and trying out what works best for you and your teen. Pausing may include one or more of these strategies:

  • Taking a few deep breaths.
  • Looking away from your teen.
  • Shifting your attention to think about something else.
  • Sitting in silence and not speaking.
  • Going to the bathroom and washing your hands.
  • Stopping what you're doing and walking into another room.
  • Getting a drink of water or food.
  • Going outside to get some fresh air.
  • Taking a walk.

Taking a moment to pause will look different depending on the situation, what you and your teen are experiencing, and the options available. As long as the situation is not a crisis, it's okay to just sit quietly with each other. Or you can take a break from each other, move to separate spaces to manage your emotions and collect your thoughts by yourself before coming back together to talk. You can pick up where you left off later. It's better to come back to the conversation in a few hours or even after a few days when you can support your teen calmly.

Coach when calm

When you are calm, you can better help your teen with their emotions. Try not to take your teen's emotions and behaviors personally. Remember that they are part of your teen's experiences and development and not a reflection of your abilities as a parent or caregiver.

Before you can support your teen in recognizing and managing their emotions, it's helpful to figure out how you are feeling. Pause and ask yourself: Is this a good time to coach my teen on emotions? Am I feeling safe and calm? Do I have the time and energy to focus on my teen?

  • If you answer yes to these questions, you're ready to start emotion coaching your teen.
  • If the answer is no, feel free to tell your teen that you will check in with them a little later.

Connect with your teen

Helping your teen with their emotions is a wonderful opportunity to connect. Taking the time to be present—especially when your teen is experiencing emotions and having a hard time—is a great investment. In the short term, you can help your teen feel seen and heard and that they can come to you for your help or just to talk about how things are going in their lives. It’s a great long-term investment because people who have strong bonds and relationships tend to live longer and healthier lives.

Listen to your teen, empathize with their emotions, and avoid judgment

Ask open-ended questions to help your teen become aware of their feelings and really listen to their answers. Approach this as a two-way conversation that will help your teen pay attention to and understand their emotions.

Once your teen has described what they are experiencing, express empathy and understanding. Tell them that you noticed their emotions, and that their emotions are valid.

Ask before giving advice

You may be tempted to offer advice during the emotion coaching process. Don't do it. Teens may shut you down if you try to tell them what to do. Instead, wait for your teen to ask for your help finding solutions or problem-solving.

Sometimes you won't coach on emotions in just one sitting. Make sure you let your teen know you're available when they're ready to speak with you.

Try an activity‎

After watching the Emotion Coaching Teens video and reading the information on this webpage, explore the activities from the Emotion Coaching Teens worksheet. Print it, write on it, type notes on your phone, or just take a few moments to quietly reflect on the questions.