Parenting Your Teenager with Emotional Intelligence

As teens plug through the high school years and prepare to leave home, parents often begin to squirm. Not only is it a gigantic letting-go process for a parent (and a teen) to leave home, but the big question that plagues many parents is: “Have I prepared my child adequately?” And emotional intelligence is critical for your teenager to be successful.

Do you know just how important your parental responses and modeling are in building emotional fitness in your teenager?

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Mother and teenage daughter connecting with empathy.Successfully Preparing Our Teens for Adulthood

Parents want their young adults to be confident, loving, respectful, and able to navigate the world successfully. But many times when we think of life skills and getting teens ready to go to college or to live on their own, what comes to mind are basics such as budgeting money or balancing a checkbook, jumping a dead car battery, cooking a semi-nutritious meal, or doing laundry without the whole load coming out pink.

Of course, these tasks are important—but they can all be googled or learned on YouTube by our tech-savvy teens. So what is most important to impart to your teen as your days of influence dwindle?

What can’t be obtained instantly from a favorite website or app is emotional intelligence, which is vital to helping your teen succeed in college, at a job, in relationships, and in pursuing goals and a career.

The Definition of Emotional Intelligence

What exactly is emotional intelligence? According to Wikipedia, “Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.”

Let’s look at just one sample scenario:

HomeworkYour teen is in his or her first year of college and is carrying a full load of classes. A month into school, he or she has several big assignments that are due early the following week. What does your teen do?

a) parties all weekend and is too hungover to go to classes on Monday

b) procrastinates all weekend by skiing, watching videos, shopping, or hanging with friends—then skips classes to avoid the assignments

c) waits until the last minute and stays up all night on Red Bull and espresso to prepare

d) sets goals, breaks assignments down into small chunks to complete on time; concentrates on studies but intersperses work with exercise and fun 

Emotional Intelligence Competencies for Teens

In the above scenario, it will be challenging for a teen to choose (d) if he or she has not developed the following emotional competencies:

  • impulse control
  • delayed gratification
  • self-calming
  • focused attention
  • goal setting

How Parents Download the Building Blocks of EQ through their Responses

Although parents often don’t realize it or sometimes forget, our responses as parents are the building blocks of healthy self-esteem and emotional intelligence in our teens. It is our repeated, loving, and balanced responses that help teens learn how to:

  • monitor and appropriately express and act on their emotions
  • sort through the varied options available and prioritize what’s most important
  • connect the dots of their choices and outcomes (both positive and negative)
  • reach accurate conclusions that equip them for better future decisions
  • set appropriate boundaries
  • respect property and people
  • derive purpose and meaning from everyday experiences

A father and his teenage daughter watching a video

It’s never too late to reinforce a teen’s emotional intelligence and cultivate confidence and composure for the many challenges that he or she will face in the future.

Here are several ways to assist in your teen’s development, decrease teen defiance, and enhance their emotional intelligence before they leave home. 

3 Vital Keys to Help Teens Develop Emotional Intelligence

KEY 1   Develop and maintain a strong and loving
              relationship with your teen.

One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to have a great relationship with your teen. This means keeping the communication lines open, being interested in their lives, and spending time with them. It also means keeping a strong connection even when they have a powerful pull toward their peers.

As teens grow more independent, it’s more challenging and it takes more effort to keep connected. Carve quality time to do things together that they enjoy. Life is extremely busy, both for parents and for teens. Sometimes hectic schedules can move parents to efficiency mode, and their only exchanges with their teens become shortened versions of things like “Have you finished your homework?” “Why are you so messy [or lazy… or rude… or crabby]?” “Stop picking on your sister!” “You haven’t taken out the trash yet; please do it before you take off.” “No, you can’t use the car.”

Take a deep breath and a step back. Families and relationships are anything but efficient—they require connection even when the situation may ask for energy, time, and attention we don’t feel we have. When it’s hardest, remember how much you love your teen. Keep reaching out to them no matter what. Show them you care. Be willing to walk on hot coals to have a relationship with them. It will pay off!

Mother and daughter having meaningful dialogueKEY 2:   Ask open-ended questions to create meaningful

Did you know that the critical development of children and teens is dependent on meaningful dialogue and collaboration? Although conversation now competes with texting, chatting, surfing the Internet, or posting on Facebook, research shows that key areas develop and are enriched in children and teens through meaningful dialogue. These include clarity in perception, self-control, critical thinking, emotional modulation, and ethical and moral development.

When you’re stressed, it’s easy to ask only yes or no questions that don’t lead into a conversation and sometimes only get a grunt or a sigh. Try making conversation a priority. Use the limited time you have with your teen in a way that cultivates closeness. Get curious. Ask thoughtful questions to start a dialogue and encourage awareness and clarity: “What was that like for you?” “How did you feel when that happened?” “How will you handle that challenge?” “What made that experience difficult [exciting, easy, emotional, meaningful, etc.] for you?”

By making just a few small course corrections in the way we interact with our teens, we can create enormous leverage in how they think, feel, and take action.

KEY 3:    When you’re triggered emotionally by your teen,
               calm yourself! Then set healthy boundaries.

Parenting teens can be extremely challenging, even when we’re at our best! Teens often test boundaries and defy our values. And it’s not always comfortable when they point out how our words and actions contradict one another.

Remember the goal: to raise respectful, responsible, loving adults. In order to accomplish this goal, you have to be an adult yourself! Easier said than done, right?

So when we lose our cool and yell, we just might lose an opportunity to model open-mindedness and calmness, and to teach our teens how to express emotions appropriately.

So above all, take care of yourself! Take time to calm yourself whenever needed. You’ll feel better, and it will improve your relationship with your teen while dramatically increasing the likelihood of building his or her emotional intelligence!

If you have difficulty setting boundaries, check out our mini-course on boundaries. It's near impossible to set healthy boundaries if we don't know how. And on top of a teen's spunky behavior, it's our job to model boundaries so they know how to set healthy boundaries themselves.

Yes, help me set better boundaries

Don't let your teen leave home or head off to college with just a few skills around the house. Ensure that they will be able to successfully surf the waves of their emotions, set boundaries and make wise decisions to keep them safe, and achieve what’s most important to them!

For parenting advice and Hacking the Teen Brain parenting classes, check out Heartmanity's resources and for parent coaching and personalized support contact us at

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Jennifer A. Williams / Parent CoachJennifer A. Williams / Parent Coach
Jennifer’s mission is to create thriving relationships at home and work. She coaches children, teens, and their parents in Bozeman, Montana. Jennifer is a parenting instructor of Redirecting Children's Behavior and an Instructor Trainer for the International Network for Children and Families. She's been a parent educator for over twenty years. Jennifer is also the author of "The Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence for Children" and co-author of "Hacking the Teen Brain" courses. She frequents homes and schools regularly as a behavioral consultant to help with challenging behaviors. Jennifer is married to her beloved husband and is the mother of three grown, fantastic children.

Posted in Perfectly Imperfect Parenting

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