The 6 Components of Your Teen's Emotions... And How to Manage Them

When your teen is sad and they don't know why... 

Sometimes your teen may wake up and roll out of bed in a bad more. (Sometimes you may do this too.)

And you may question where it came from and ask yourself...

... why are you sad?

... what happened in the past few days that's getting to you?

... how does this even make sense?

And typically these questions arise from the desire to FIX the situation.

You don't want to feel sad. And you're convinced that if you find the reason for it, you can fix it and you won't feel sad anymore.



Understand what they are and how to address them and you'll know how to acknowledge your feelings AND move forward (even if it takes a little time to process.)


This is when you're hungry, tired, sick or not taking care of yourself with diet and exercise (or you're overusing alcohol or abusing substances.) These are examples of ways that taking care of yourself physically impacts you emotionally.

Think about it...

When you haven't slept well, you're way more likely to fly off the handle or break down in tears. So is your teen.

Routine and commitment to taking care of your physical health is the single best way to address these vulnerability factors and feel good about yourself. It's something we check in and hold teens accountable for each week in sessions using a DBT Diary Card too!


These are the events that prompt a reaction: the situations, thoughts and feelings that lead to an emotional experience.

Some examples include...

+ being told "no"

+ conflict with friends or siblings

+ a pile of school work or overwhelming demands

Knowing your teen's triggers and creating a plan to Cope Ahead so that they know how to handle the situation is a helpful way to manage triggers. And, identifying triggers then noticing them in the moment is a mindfulness practice in and of itself.


Your thoughts create your feelings about a situation. It's all based on how you interpret the event. Most times, these thoughts stem from beliefs your teen already holds about themselves and the world.

For example, if a friend doesn't answer a text right away, your teen may interpret this as, "She must hate me" based on a past experience of losing friendships or being rejected. And then your teen would feel sad which *could* lead to self-destructive behaviors as a result.

But, another teen could have the same experience of a friend not responding and think, "They must be busy at their job" and then move on with their day doing something fun or productive.

In therapy we work to challenge your teen's unhelpful interpretations with questions like...

...Is this ultimately true?

...Is there another way of looking at the situation that's more helpful or empowering for you?

(And you can ask the same questions at home too!)


When you experience emotions, you hold them within your body too.

You may notice that...

your heart races

your shoulders get tenseyour blood feels like it's boiling

your breathing gets more shallow

And when these body changes occur, it may prompt even MORE thoughts and feelings about what's happening. You may register one of these sensations and then begin to believe that something is *really* wrong.

Have you ever had a panic attack?

You begin to think that you're actually dying. << This is an interpretation (thought) about your emotion and the related body sensation.

Using DBT Self-Soothe and TIPP Skills can help you to address and change your body chemistry and physical experience of your emotions so that you feel calmer and are able to think more clearly.

Some Self-Soothe examples include...

+ Taking deep breaths

+ Listening to soothing music

+ Taking a hot bath or shower


Thoughts and feelings lead to behaviors. Behaviors are the outward expression of what's happening for your teen internally (and not a personal affront to you as a parent)

Urges and behaviors that are self-destructive are an indication that your teen is depressed, not a bid for attention or to manipulate to get what they want.

(That being said, sometimes your teen's desire to sit in their room is just a desire to be a typical teen and sit in their room. We have ALL the details on typical vs. problematic teen behaviors that we're spilling in our new parent support group here.)

When you can help your teen find a NAME for their emotion and VALIDATE them in the moment, you can help them feel heard which automatically decreases the need for the urge or behavior that's being expressed.

(Feeling understood = resolution for problem behaviors)


I'm not referring to "No driving for a week" but rather the natural consequences that come from your teen's emotional experience.

They may feel guilty for acting out.They may feel frustration that they didn't get the assignment done.They may feel anxious that another urge will arise.

In therapy, we often rewind and replay the incident by breaking it down like this. (In DBT we call this a Behavior Chain Analysis and we'll teach your teen how to do it too so they can essentially learn to become their own therapist.)

I'll often say things like...

If you went back and did it again, what would you do differently?

Where can you plug in skills that could have changed the outcome?

What do you know now as a result that you can use next time a similar situation arises?

And once your teen is calm, you too can return to the situation with them to help them learn from it and move forward.

Understanding the components of an emotion and how you can break it down will help you know how to respond to your teen AND how to help them understand what to do too!