How to support your teen during stressful times

Be your child’s partner in navigating tough situations.

UNICEF
Village Santpur, India, Teen bride: Bride is Tejal Chauhan age 17. She poses with her mother Puri Chauhan.
Paula Bronstein
19 October 2021

Whether you and your teen are getting along well or having challenges, it is important to show that you love and support them and remind yourselves how much you love each other. Here are some tips for helping your child navigate tough times – while taking care of yourself!
 

Encourage your teen to share their feelings

  • Find ways to check in with your teen. Ask them how their day has been and what they have been doing. It could be by inviting them to join you in a task, such as cooking dinner, so you can use the time to chat about their day.

  • Remind your teen that you are there for them, no matter what, and that you want to hear how they are feeling and what they are thinking.

  • It is important to acknowledge and understand emotions they might be experiencing, even if it feels uncomfortable. For example, you can respond “I understand” or “it sounds like a difficult situation” or “that makes sense” when they share with you.

  • It can be easy to notice the things your teen is doing that you do not like. Try to notice and praise them for something they are doing well (even something very simple!).
     

Take time to support your teen

  • Work together on setting up new routines and setting achievable, daily goals as your circumstances may change with the changing context.

  • Adolescence means independence! Try to give your teen the appropriate time and space to be on their own and take on more responsibility. Needing space is a normal part of growing up.

  • Find a few ways you can support and encourage your teen to take breaks (from schoolwork, housework, or other activities they may be working on) to do things they enjoy and spend time with their friends. If your teen is frustrated, work with them to brainstorm some solutions to problems. Try not to take over and tell them what to do.
     

Work through conflict between you and your teen

  • Listen to your teens’ views and try to sort out problems between you and your teen calmly. Remember: everyone can be stressed!

  • Never discuss an issue while you are angry. Walk away, take a breath and calm down – you can talk with your teen about it later.

  • Avoid power struggles. With the world feeling unpredictable right now, teens might be struggling to feel in control of anything. As difficult as it can be in the moment, empathize with your teen’s desire to assert control in a scary time, rather than attempting to fight back or overpower it.

  • Be honest and transparent with your teen: you can let them know that you are also experiencing extra stress and how you feel lost, uncertain or scared. Modeling how you deal with difficult feelings can help them know their own feelings are okay.

  • When there is a conflict, take some time to reflect on how you and your teen can resolve the conflict. You can discuss these reflections with your teen, so they see how you are processing ideas.
     

Take time to care for yourself

Caregivers have a lot to deal with. You also need care and support for yourself. Practicing self-care is also a good way of modelling self-care to your teen.

  • Don’t wait too long to ask others for help if you are feeling overwhelmed. It is normal and okay to feel this way. Find a family member or someone you can talk with.
  • Make time for your own relationships. Set aside some time each day to check in with others who make you feel supported and understood. Try to find a few people that you can share feelings and experiences with.
  • Make time in your day to do things that help you cope and manage stress. Whether your day is busy or slow, we know that making time to look after yourself is essential for your well-being.
  • Try different positive coping strategies to find what works for you. Ideas include:
    - Exercising
    - Talking with friends
    - Making to-do lists or planning ahead
    - Maintaining routines and structures
    - Reflecting on what you are grateful for or proud of
    - Doing things, you enjoy, like music, art, dancing
    - Keeping a journal

This article is based on guidance from the IASC Reference Group on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support.