A Mom recently asked for some advice on how to support her transformed 13-year-old daughter, who seems to have morphed into an Angry Hermit overnight. Up until now, this teen has been compliant with her Diabetes treatments since diagnosis at age 2. The daily regimen of frequent blood sugar checks and insulin injections had been tolerated, but as a teen, this daughter is now angry much of the time, often isolating herself in her bedroom and resistive to the necessary, life-sustaining treatment; hence, the new descriptor “Angry Hermit”.
This shift to resistance is pretty typical of teens that have previously adhered to persistent medical regimens. Teens are at a developmental stage that is epitomized by pushing boundaries and resisting control by adults, whether it is parents, teachers or medical professionals.
This family’s struggle is the perfect vehicle to walk parents through the 5-Steps of Emotion Coaching. Mom, your first clue to how to support your daughter, is with your description of your daughter as Angry much of the time. And this is where Emotional Coaching comes in beautifully!!
Face the facts, there really is nothing a parent can do to change the Diabetes diagnosis, treatment regimen or how her daughter feels about this problem. Accept it, as parents there are countless situations where we are powerless to take away a child’s pain or fix a problem in their life. You are however in control of how you respond to your daughter’s emotional material. Your response and how you tackle this situation can vastly impact the outcome. How you attend, label and validate the emotion, can actually help to soothe your daughter’s physiological response! How cool is that!
Here are the 5-Steps to Emotion Coaching:
- Attend to Emotion.
“I see you” Stop what you’re doing, face your teen and give her your full attention.
- Label and Express the Emotion.
“You are really angry” “I understand you”
- Validate the Emotion.
“You feel something really big” “What you feel is valid” “If I were you, I’d feel the same way”
- Meet the need.
“Tell me what you’d like to do with this anger?” “What would you say to Diabetes if you could meet it face-to-face?” “What does your body want to do right now?” Mom, stay with your daughter’s emotion and tolerate her bigness. By honoring what she is feeling and allowing her to share her emotional world with you, you are actually helping to regulate her body and the anger will de-crescendo more quickly than if you were to redirect her to the reality of her situation or shut down the tantrum.
- Problem-solve, Re-direct, and Fix it. (Only go to #5 after completing steps 1-4 and even then very rarely. In most instances, repeat steps 1 to 4)
“I am here to help you sort this out if you need me”
Often parents don’t want to address the emotion that is right in front of them, for fear that it will make things worse, but I assure you, it does quite the opposite when emotion is given voice and space to be “heard” and “seen”. It is in these moments of deep inner connection that relationship grows -this is where you teen FEELS FELT. And it is through a strong relational connection that parents are in a position to guide decisions and teach their values.
We want our teens to utter a sigh of relief, “They get me”. Once a parent shows they understand, you have your teen that knows you are in their corner. After the anger runs it course, you will likely have a teen, who crumples in your arms and allows you to stroke her hair and pat her back as she sobs and shares her sadness around a medical condition that will never go away. “Mom, I know I have to follow my treatment, but it just sucks sometimes that I can’t be like my friends. It’s so unfair!” Keep listening and attending to the sadness with loving touch and comfort. Let your teen do the talking or stay with the silence if she just needs you close.
Ultimately, we want our daughters to bring their big emotions to us and for them to know that we can handle their loud, confusing and messy emotional material, no matter what. For this to happen, we need to learn the skills of emotion focused parenting and to grow big shoulders, so our teen doesn’t mistakenly push down what she really feels and keep us firmly out of her internal life.
Let me ask you a question…what do you think your daughter learns about herself when she is scared to share her true feelings with you?