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​Emotion Regulation and Distress Tolerance Strategies for Teens : Self-Soothing

by Ruby Jamil
 

If you’re the parent of a teenager, you are likely familiar with the emotional ups and downs that often come with adolescence.

Fluctuation of emotions and intense emotions are common in teens because their hormones are changing rapidly and the social, academic, and family demands can be overwhelming.

Also, the part of the brain that controls decision-making and impulse control (the pre-frontal cortex) is not fully developed until a person is in their mid-20s. What this means is that based on adolescent brain anatomy, it is difficult for some teens to control their impulses and understand the consequences of their actions, so sometimes they may not make the “right” decisions.

This series will explore three emotion regulation tips that you might use to help your teen when they are emotional, starting with Self-Soothing.

Self-Soothing – When people are emotionally aroused, the emotional part of their brain takes over and often their instinct is to do something that might be unhealthy or hurtful to themselves or others. The rational thinking part of the brain is offline during these moments.

In order for your teen to regain control of their emotions and make better decisions, they need to calm their emotional brain.

This can be done by self-soothing.

Cue your teen do something that gives them pleasure and comfort (instead of something that is harmful or likely to further escalate their distress). We often suggest soothing using the 5 senses (touch, taste, hearing, sight, smell).

Some ideas for self soothing include taking a shower, listening to uplifting or calming music, meditating, visualizing a safe space, smelling candles or using essential oils, petting an animal, or eating a reasonable amount of a preferred food. Another way to calm the emotional brain is to engage in an activity that distracts the teen from what is causing them distress (e.g., watching TV, listening to music).

Self-Soothe can be practiced by anyone, and you may even benefit from the skill.