If you have a Tween or Teen, you know what we’re talking about.
As parents we wonder how to deal with a crying teenager or that tween who’s just out of control over something that might seem minor to us as parents.
Recently, I read a great New York Times article from a previous guest on our podcast, Dr. Lisa Damour titled: “How to Help Teens Weather Their Emotional Storms“.
What she shared is amazing and she also discusses this in her newest best seller: “Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls“.
First let’s share what this amazing idea is and then we’ll dive into why this is so powerful.
How To Help With Teenage Meltdowns
Mom and Dad, how do you feel about glitter?
If you’re like most parents, it’s not your favorite thing in the world. It gets everywhere. It won’t go away.
Some parents just ban it from the house completely, banishing it to the outdoor patio.
But it can play a valuable role in helping your child (and even you) understand what is happening in the teenage brain when worked up (angry, upset, irrational, etc.).
In her article, Dr. Lisa Damour introduces the idea of the glitter jar (similar to a snow globe). When you shake it, the swirling glitter is a visual representation of what the teenage brain looks like when in an agitated state.
Pretty hard to be rational when your brain is going 100MPH in different directions, right?
But like the glitter jar, when left to sit for a few moments, the glitter very quickly settles to the bottom of the jar. And, to Dr. Damour’s point, when left to sit calmly and quietly for a few minutes, the teenage brain can also self-regulate and calm itself down… without any interference from us.
Why ‘Let’s Settle Your Glitter’ Works
Dr. Damour writes, “I have enthusiastically recommended glitter jars to several parents and colleagues knowing that some teenagers will instantly benefit from having a concrete model of emotional distress. That said, I have come to appreciate that a glitter jar’s main utility is in the instructions it provides to those who are caring for the overwrought.”
When some kids are worked up, a visual reminder of what’s going on in their brain can be reassuring to them, knowing that they just need to take a moment and calm down before trying to rationalize their thoughts.
But, as Dr. Damour points out, it’s not just helpful to worked up teens.
It’s also helpful as a visual reminder for us, mom and dad.
It’s hard to remember sometimes how problems seemed larger than life at that age. How even small things seemed like they were the ‘end of the world.’
But our brains are fully developed. Theirs won’t be until possibly as late as 25.
And if we react to their (oftentimes) overreaction like it’s a huge problem that has to be fixed, we can actually make matters worse. The same is true if we brush it off and don’t validate their feelings.
If we react calmly and let teens understand that their emotions will calm down, that they’re just experiencing momentary chaos that is normal and will self-correct, we send our kids the message that they’re completely normal.
And that self-correction will happen more quickly.
Conclusion: What to do with a Teenage Meltdown
As parents, we need to always keep in the forefront of our minds that our children’s brains are being remodeled starting in the early stages of adolescence. And the front part of the brain, the part that gives us the ability to reason and make rational decisions, doesn’t finish developing until as late as 25.
But this is normal.
As are teenage meltdowns.
Which is why we need to avoid acting like a fire has to be put out if our teen comes to us worked up.
As Dr. Damour explains, “Reacting instead with the understanding that emotions usually have their own life cycle — coming as waves that surge and fall — sends adolescents the reassuring message that they aren’t broken; in fact, they’re self-correcting.”
Which is why the glitter jar can be so helpful. It gives kids (and parents) a visual reminder of what’s actually going on in the teenage brain when it’s worked up. And also shows what happens when given time to settle. It self-corrects, all on its own.
Tell us, how do you help your teen or pre-teen overcome meltdowns? Leave us a comment below or jump back into our Facebook group to join the discussion there.