Teaching Adolescents How to Process Emotions

by S. Grey

Because many adolescents have issues dealing with their emotions, teaching them to do so can improve their lives. If they are unable to handle their feelings, adolescents may be prone to acting out or becoming easily frustrated. Activities such as role play and mindfulness meditation show adolescents how to accept their emotions and respond to them in appropriate ways. The better adolescents are able to adjust to their feelings, the better they will be at coping with everyday stresses of life.


Having a model of appropriate emotional processing is helpful to many adolescents. By showing how to respond to and handle emotions, you can create a significant impact. By talking openly about your emotions and finding positive ways to handle them, you increase the likelihood of adolescents following suit. The thought process you wish to model may go as follows: "Right now, I feel frustrated because we have to wait so long at the store, but rather than acting on that frustration, I am going to accept it and then focus on being patient."

Role Play

Role playing with adolescents is a valuable way to teach them how to process emotions and can supplement modeling. Role play lets you and the adolescent act out a scenario together in order to figure out appropriate responses. When role playing, ask the adolescent for alternatives to certain emotions. For instance, create a scenario that invokes anger, or let the adolescent suggest one, to promote a feeling of mastery. As the angry feeling occurs, brainstorm positive responses to the anger, such as the adolescent removing himself from the situation or taking deep breaths.

Enhance Emotional Vocabulary

Helping adolescents enhance emotional vocabulary allows them to define the nuances in feelings and contributes to better emotional processing. Emotional vocabulary encompasses an individual's repertoire of feeling-words; the more varied the vocabulary, the better the understanding of emotions within the adolescent. For example, sad is a blanket term that can cover a spectrum of emotions. Teach your teenager the difference between being sad and being disappointed or sullen, two words that point out nuances in sadness. You can do this by looking up facial expressions and attaching emotions to them or by practicing the facial expressions yourselves and fleshing out the feelings they express.


Mindfulness practice helps adolescents discern their emotions and leads to better emotional processing. The idea behind mindfulness is acceptance, which extends to emotions. According to research published in "Emotion," mindfulness can limit emotional reactivity, thought repetition and depressed thoughts. Adolescents able to accept and recognize their emotions are better able to process them. A simple mindfulness exercise to do with adolescents is meditation. Sit with your teenager in a comfortable and quiet area. Serve as the guide through deep breathing, inhaling and exhaling with the nose. As thoughts arise, instruct the teen to watch them come and go rather than holding onto them and attaching judgment, such as "good" or "bad." Do this exercise for 10 minutes, gradually increasing time with more practice.

About the Author

S. Grey has a Master of Science in counseling psychology from the University of Central Arkansas. He is also pursuing a PhD and has a love for psychology, comic books and social justice. He has been published in a text on social psychology and regularly presents research at regional psychology conferences.

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