Parents and Teens – Here’s How to Develop Emotional Awareness

Emotional awareness is the ability to know how you’re feeling and when. It’s common for some teens and adults to be out of touch with their feelings. For instance, instead of feeling a certain emotion, instead, a person might feel uneasy in their stomach or have a burst of energy or an unexpected feeling of wanting to withdraw from others. Yet, what would be more accurate would be knowing that you’re feeling angry, excited, or rejected. Once you can name how you’re feeling, you can then decide with maturity and skill what to do next.


Emotional awareness is a skill that important for both teens and their parents. For instance, teens may need to know what they’re feeling so that they can learn to be less impulsive and less black and white in their thinking. The inability to manage emotions can lead to dysfunctional coping mechanisms such as drug use, drinking, cutting, aggression, and other forms of risky behavior. It can be challenging to manage feelings when they seem frightening or overwhelming. They might be accompanied by fear, helplessness, and powerlessness. These emotions might also lead to shutting down. Therefore, having tools that allow you to manage emotions and/or stress quickly can support your well-being.


At the same time, strengthening emotional awareness is important for parents too! First, it might help parents to know that cultivating emotional awareness can support the ability to respond versus react. In other words, becoming more aware of your feelings can help put some distance between the stimulus and your response. In many cases, the parent-teen relationship can be a source of stress. Yet, by staying aware of your emotions you have a greater ability to respond to your teen with presence, mindfulness, and patience. This may be particularly important when the stress between the two of you is high.


Furthermore, speaking of stress, you won’t be able to manage your emotions unless you know how to manage stress. The two are inherently related. Because emotions are unpredictable, they can come on strongly at times and create a stressful experience. Learning how to manage emotions, similar to the ability to manage stress, depends first on your level of emotional awareness.


Here are some key ways to increase your emotional awareness:


1. Keep a journal. When you’re taking time to write down your experiences and the feelings you had as a result, you may get better at noticing how you’re feeling and when. Keeping a journal is an activity both teens and adults can do separately.


2. Practice naming your feelings when you have them. This may take practice. Often we have an internal experience but we may not be in touch with it enough to name the emotion. Or sometimes, it’s easier to name the feeling later after the experience has passed. Yet, even then is a good time. With more and more practice, you’ll get better at naming your emotions right in the moment.


3. Build your vocabulary of feelings. There is a difference between anger and frustration. And there are differences between sadness, disappointment, and loss. Growing your vocabulary of feelings can increase your ability to recognize the subtleties between feelings.


These are suggestions for increasing emotional awareness for both parents and teens. As this skill gets stronger, the parent-teen relationship will benefit and the emotional health of each of you may also improve.