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Kids’ Emotions: How does the Process of the Adolescent Brain Work?

Posted by Jeff Schadt on 2018-08-01

Kids’ Emotions: How does the Process of the Adolescent Brain Work?

Posted by Jeff Schadt on 2018-08-01


Kids’ Emotions: How does the Process of the Adolescent Brain Work?

Kids emotions are even more confusing as they approach and enter the changes of the adolescent brain.  By age nine many of our kids will be in the midst of this. We as parents, thankfully, are able to help them navigate through this challenging change.

The process in the adolescent brain begins eighteen months prior to the age of maturity. When this occurs the hormones that lead to the maturity are released resulting in further brain development in the back lobes of our kids’ brains.  As a result, the electrical activity actually decreases in the front lobe of the brain where emotional regulation resides.

Kids that seemed fairly well balanced become more sensitive and small things result in large emotional responses.  This is the reason our kids become more opposition and can argue with us even when they know they are wrong intellectually.   Their emotions can trump reason.

If they were already negative about themselves, struggling with motivation or carrying hurt inside even small things that touch those feelings can lead to disproportionate and often angry responses.

When these things occur it is natural for us to:

  • Tell them their behavior is wrong
  • Push back against the unreasonable reaction
  • Attempt to make this ridiculous behavior stop by inflicting consequences
  • Use logic to show them that their reaction is disproportionate to the situation

Given my time coaching adolescents I find that these responses leave kids’ feeling like they are not understood or listened to and that their feelings are wrong.  The outcome of these tactics is twofold, growing distance in their relationships and kids who believe there is something wrong with them. There is nothing wrong with them, it is a natural outcome of the development occurring in their brains. The problem is that they do not know this and often feel powerless to change the negative outcomes their responses and behavior cause with their parents. They doubt themselves and store more hurt inside.

This is why the traditional approach to parenting breaks down.  Consequences will not alter the reality of brain development. They do not help them understand or believe in themselves but have the opposite effect.

So what are we to do?  According to all the research kids learn better through independence in this time frame.  It makes sense when we understand that they will push back against us when their emotions are triggered even if they know we are right.  Consequences will lead to even greater distance and push back!

While difficult and counter intuitive, we need to hold our tongues and answers concerning their behavior and give them time to calm down when their emotions are triggered. Then we need to ask them a progression of questions that help them feel heard and understood before moving into self-reflective questions.

Questions like:

  • What has you so frustrated or upset with me?
  • What/how are you feeling inside?
  • Are there other things going on that have you hurt or frustrated?
  • Are you struggling to ………?
  • How do you feel about yourself?
  • What do you think you should do in this situation?

Why does this approach work?  It allows their feelings to come out without judgment or correction and therefore does not add to the pile of emotions that trigger their oppositional nature.

When using this approach with my own kids and the kids that I coach, I find that they almost always come to the correct conclusion because questions help them vent the emotion and access the front lobe of the their brain where decision making and consequence evaluation reside.

For them to share their emotions they need to believe you will listen and not lecture or correct their feelings.  Their feelings are real and there is no sense in taking them on. The key is getting them through the emotions so that they can process them and make decisions that are not dictated by their emotions or their oppositional responses that cause them to move in the opposite direction we desire.

Would you to like to learn more on how your kids’ feelings relate to the growth of the brain? Please take advantage of our free webinar on Influential Parenting.

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