Help Teens Lean into Challenge, Instead of Turn Away

by | Dec 15, 2020 | Teenagers | 0 comments

How can I help my teen overcome a painful challenge?

Last week, a teen client started her session with tears in her eyes and frustration on her face. The first thing she said was, “Erica, you caught me in a spiral.” She was referring to an overwhelming spiral of negative self-talk and frustration, a place in which teens often find themselves when facing a challenge.

For this client, her trigger was homework, specifically math. She was frustrated that she didn’t understand the latest math concepts and consequently, her homework was taking much longer than usual. She admitted that she felt “stupid” and like the only one who didn’t get it. Then she went further and confessed she didn’t feel “worthy.” Her inner critic’s volume was so loud that it was prohibiting her from calming down and finding solutions.

Her coaching session interrupted the downward spiral and provided her an outlet to vent her frustration and find a more helpful perspective.

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How does your teen react to challenges?

When the going gets tough, does your teen freak out, shut down, or give up?

Teens are reactive and anything from a challenging subject to a broken heart can send them into a negative spiral. Their inner critic adds insult to injury and can take them further down the tunnel of self-doubt. Without the tools to stop the downward spiral and pull themselves out of the tunnel, most teens will react.

Common reactions include:

  • Anger toward their parents
  • Quiet withdrawal to their room
  • Complete disregard and abandonment of the experience they find difficult

Equip your teen with the right tools

When your teen has the right tools and mindsets, she will approach challenges differently. They learn to meet their initial frustration with compassion and moderate their inner critic. They face their challenges with a sense of calm determination.

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After coaching my client out of her spiral, she went back to her math homework. She completed it to the best of her ability. She offered herself reassurance and reminders that she could do hard things. Using the tools she had learned, she moved through her challenge with a sense of accomplishment and took away a few important life-lessons.

“It is OK to feel what I am feeling?”

One of the most common things I see is teens getting mad at themselves when they experience a negative feeling. When I validated my client’s frustration with her math homework and said it makes sense that she is upset because it is frustrating to feel as if you don’t understand something. When I reminded her that it is OK, and actually normal, to feel that way, her face softened. Her frustration began to melt away.

We need to encourage teens to recognize and accept their emotional reactions to challenges. We need to remind them that it is human to feel anger, frustration, sadness, etc. but it is not helpful to allow those feelings to turn into personal criticisms.

Here are three main areas that need to be addressed to help your teen deal with a challenge.

“What does this part of me need?”

After acknowledging and accepting a negative feeling or reaction, this is an important question to ask. It helps teens identify actions they can take, which helps them gain a sense of control.

When I asked my teen client this question, she was able to identify three helpful actions that would help her regain a sense of calm and face her math homework:

  • Talking with her friends
  • Taking a walk
  • Scheduling an appointment with her math teacher

“What is this challenge showing me?”

I always remind my teen clients that challenges are opportunities. They usually come up to reveal a new perspective, sharpen an existing strength, or teach an important life lesson.

After accepting that her frustration was normal and there were more helpful actions she could take to calm down and refocus, my client was able to see that her challenge with math was providing her an opportunity to strengthen her perseverance. She added that the challenge was teaching her how to take care of herself when in a spiral of frustration and underscored the importance of positive self-talk.


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