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How Parents and Caring Adults Can Support Emotional Development

Parents and other adults can support positive emotional development and help youth thrive by modeling healthy behaviors. This means that it is important to:

  • Make your own emotional well-being a priority. You may find it helpful to join a parent group where you can safely navigate your feelings with people who understand your point of view.
    • Being mindful of emotional well-being is especially important for people working with adolescents who have experienced trauma. The Vicarious Trauma Toolkit can help victim services providers, law enforcement personnel, emergency responders, and other professionals address the emotional impact of their work.
  • Practice healthy goal-setting. Let go of ideas of perfection for adolescents and yourself. Set realistic goals and break them into smaller tasks that are easier to manage. When you come up against an obstacle or experience a failure, focus on what you can control, and let go of the things that you cannot.
  • Value every adolescent’s unique identity. Even when you don’t relate to an adolescent’s feelings or experiences, your understanding and respect as a parent or caring adult goes a long way. 
  • Resolve conflicts with respect for others. When you disagree with someone, remember what you like about the person and focus on resolving the issue at hand instead of assigning blame. Take time to cool off and think things through when you start to feel overwhelmed. Family conflicts can be especially stressful given the intense emotions and relationship dynamics at play. 
  • Manage your anger. Practicing relaxation exercises and using humor to diffuse a tense situation are a couple strategies you can use to manage your anger. Seek professional help if you are unsure of what to do.

Parents and other adults also can support the development of adolescents’ skills that facilitate emotional development by taking steps to:

  • Strengthen communication skills. Many lessons about relationships and emotions start with the parent-child relationship. Effective and open communication lies at the heart of this relationship. Strong communication skills include being an attentive listener, sharing your experiences instead of lecturing, and asking open-ended questions.
  • Build emotional vocabulary. State your feelings and discuss how other people may feel in a nonjudgmental way. Point out nonverbal cues such as body language when discussing emotions. Ask your teen, “How did you feel about that?” and “How do you think that made the other person feel?”
  • Promote stress management skills. Encourage adolescents to handle stress in healthy ways. Daily management strategies include getting adequate sleep, staying active with exercise and hobbies, practicing deep breathing, and eating regular meals. Teach adolescents to “mind their brain” by talking about adolescent brain development and letting them know how they can use the power of their brains to learn healthy behaviors.
  • Nurture self-regulation skills. Provide opportunities for adolescents to understand, express, and moderate their own feelings and behaviors. This step involves modeling self-regulation, creating a warm and responsive environment, establishing consequences for poor decisions, and reducing the emotional intensity of conflicts.
  • Limit exposure to risky situations. When faced with a decision, emotions may intermingle with recollections of what might have happened in the past. Prepare adolescents for risky situations by talking about what they can do to anticipate, avoid, and process them. Help adolescents weigh their emotions and think through short-term and long-term consequences.
  • Help teens think carefully about risky situations. After a risky event, ask adolescents, “Why do you think this happened?” and “What could you do differently next time?” It may take them a long time to fully process their experiences so give them to time to think about the answers. 
  • Pay attention to warning signs. Adolescents may show signs of stress, anxiety, or depression such as increased irritability or anger, changing sleeping and eating habits, dropping favorite activities, or feelings of loneliness. Resources are available to those experiencing an emotional crisis. If you are concerned about an adolescent’s well-being, consult your healthcare provider or mental health professional. An adolescent may also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. 

Additional information on adolescent emotional development can be found in The Teen Years Explained: A Guide to Healthy Adolescent Development, produced by the Center for Adolescent Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.


Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on August 10, 2018