6 Tips for Balancing Empathy and Discipline to Encourage Emotional Intelligence in Your Teen

6 Tips for Balancing Empathy and Discipline to Encourage Emotional Intelligence in Your Teen August 21, 2023

Emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence
Image via Clarisse Meyer on Unsplash

Your teenager is just a few years away from adulthood. They’re about to become responsible for their well-being, which requires more skills than cooking and physical hygiene. They should also know how to monitor their mental health, so emotional intelligence in teens is a crucial skill they must develop alongside their parents.

Emotional intelligence isn’t something everyone learns before becoming a parent. Check out this guide to understand what the concept means and how to practice it while balancing empathy with discipline.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Two psychologists coined emotional intelligence in the early 1990s to separate the ability from standard intelligence tests. It describes someone’s ability to recognize their emotions at any given time and successfully manage them before making big decisions.

Empathetic parenting is the best way to instill this ability in your kids. As teens grow up, emotional intelligence becomes the best way to foster healthy relationships with themselves and their loved ones. It can also make life more enjoyable by minimizing bad decisions made by automatic reactions to their emotional state.

How to Encourage Emotional Intelligence in Teens

Anyone can encourage emotional intelligence in teens by practicing these habits with their family. As you try these techniques with your teenager, they’ll become more successful at identifying and managing their feelings at any given moment.

Name Your Emotions

People sometimes develop versions of themselves that better help them survive emotional moments. Those versions are called the role self. It stems from role identity theory, which validates someone’s social purpose by helping them fit into their perceived social role within a family, friend or professional group. 

These instinctive role-selves can develop even in households with empathetic parents. For example, a parent may applaud their child for their sense of humor. The child recognizes their identity as the funny one in the family, so they instinctively ignore when they feel sad, angry or any other negative emotion.

Parents can encourage more emotional connection in their teens by demonstrating how to name feelings. It could be as simple as talking about how you felt sad early that day because your favorite menu item was unavailable at the restaurant you visited for lunch. Pointing out your feelings, naming them and describing how they make you feel sets your teen up to mirror that skill within themselves.

Validate Your Family’s Emotions

Empathetic parenting always involves the validation of your child’s emotions. Their world is much smaller because they have fewer responsibilities, but their feelings are always valid. When they describe being extremely angry about something a friend said at school, let them know they’re allowed to feel pissed off about that.

Encouraging them to validate their feelings means your teen won’t be afraid of recognizing an emotion. It’s the first step in managing their emotional well-being.

Demonstrate How to Process Feelings

Sometimes your teen might feel an emotion and not have a name for it. Feelings can be murky experiences instead of concrete emotions. When they’re irritated and don’t know why, sit with them. Ask them to quietly ask themselves things like:

  • How does that emotion makes them feel mentally?
  • What physical effects does that emotion have on them?

Imagine that their irritation results in muscle tension. You could prompt their introspective work with questions such as:

  • Why is this irritation here?
  • What would they say if the muscle tension and annoyance had a voice?
  • What purpose does that annoyance serve?

This type of emotional intelligence teaches people of all ages to be curious about their feelings. It makes emotions more manageable, even when the feeling is intense, vague or intimidating.

Practice Stress Relieving Habits

Stress and anxiety are common emotions your teen doesn’t have to face alone. Parents can demonstrate empathy by teaching their teens habits that proactively or actively mitigate these feelings.

When your teenager names their stress, discuss which habits they want to use to relieve it. They could go outside and exercise, which boosts their endorphin production and stimulates happiness instead of waiting for happiness to arrive.

Your teen might also enjoy breathing techniques that slow their heart rate or a creative outlet that takes their mind off their stressors. These habits can proactively prevent anxiety or stress from building and be an outlet that vents their negative feelings in healthy ways. Understanding resources like these is a key factor in anyone’s emotional intelligence.

Listen Actively Instead of Passively

Active listening is one of the main factors in empathetic parenting. You have to hear what your teen feels and thinks to empathize with them. If you’re passively listening, they may open up about their emotionally vulnerable state while you’re thinking about things you need to do later that day or reasons why they shouldn’t feel that way at all.

Staying focused on your teen’s words and their meaning also helps you. Active listening is another way to inform yourself about your perspective when it comes to your emotional well-being. You might connect with your teen about a feeling you didn’t realize you shared. It could positively change your perspective on your teen’s identity or relationship with you.

Provide Emotional Intelligence Tools

Combine discipline and empathy by giving your teen tools for an emotional self-care routine. They can practice their new daily habits to learn more about their feelings.

Journaling is an excellent tool. Your teenager could write about their feelings and reframe their negative thoughts by seeing them on physical or digital paper. Sometimes it’s easier to name what you’re feeling when it’s in ink and not just in your head.

Apps also help people track their feelings. Encourage your teen to try apps like Finch, Moodfit or Worry Watch to see which platform they prefer. The guidance and resources within mood management apps could be what your teen needs to care for their emotional well-being now and in adulthood.

Strive for Empathetic Parenting

Parents should instill emotional intelligence in teens so their kids are successful in adulthood. You could model how you identify your feelings, provide your teen with helpful resources or show them how to process their emotions when they feel overwhelmed. As they practice these skills, they develop the self-discipline to regulate their feelings long-term.

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