Upset/Angry Young People? Three Magic Words to Say to Ourselves

Some kids and teens get upset a lot - more than the average child/teen.

They get REALLY mad when things are unfair, outraged when their plans are thwarted, really stressed when they have small responsibilities, anxious about how other people think about them and sad about life.

There are many ways we can help young people deal with difficult emotions - depending on the situation, their age and how much time we have!  But often, an excellent first step is to say threemagic words to ourselves.

What are these magic words?  They are these:


Not My Responsibility.

It is not our responsibility to fix or solve the problems which cause our kids and teens distress.  

It's not our responsibility to make life okay for our "big feelings" kids and teens.

It's not our responsibility to make them happy.

It's our responsibility as parents/carers to love them through their struggles, be empathic as much as we can, coach and teach skills to help them deal with them and to help structure their life with boundaries and care - so they can learn to live meaningful lives.  

But that doesnt mean removing all sources of distress, or ensuring they are happy as much as we possibly can.  Let me say this one more time, when kids and teens are upset - it is NOT our responsibility to fix it.

I think I've probably said it enough, but just in case I'm misinterpreted, let me clarify again that I don't mean we don't offer our young people empathy when they are distressed - actually, on the contrary, I think empathy is vital.  We need to say, as often as possible, things like:  I'm sorry you feel like this.  I wish you didn't feel so bad. That sounds tough.  

Empathy is vital - and I actually believe that often when we are clear that it is not our responsibility to fix their problems, it's easier to be empathic.

But it's not our responsibility.

Try it yourself and see how it feels for you:  next time your child/teen comes to you in anger, frustration, sadness, worry or stress - silently say to yourself "not my responsibility" - and see what happens next.

Kirrilie is a child/adolescent psychologist who helps kids and teens feel calm, confident and cooperative.  For more help online check out calmkidcentral.com