4 Tips for Parents to Manage Teen Behaviours

Teen behaviours, transitions and developments can be a tricky part of growing, existing and becoming, given that we experience the world, and the world experiences us in different ways. What might work for one, might not work for the other, just the same way we can be on different journeys at the same time. The key is to own it. Even with similar experiences it’s important to note that everyone’s outcome and what that experience means or looks like is unique and distinctive and therefore one’s willingness to understand or find meaning should be tailored to that specific individual and their unique experiences. Thus, not categorize or fit one’s lived experiences into a box. 

Given the diversified experiences and exposures we have as people, parents and even teenagers it is of paramount importance that we develop an understanding of what is behind the behaviours of teenagers – individuals who are slowly growing through their own transitions and working towards becoming young adults at some point.

Here are 3 tips and tricks that parents and teenagers can use in identifying and understanding the particular need behind a behaviour is:

Understanding Teen Behaviours Tip #1 – Develop A Sense Of Curiosity

What I mean by this is adapting yourself to understanding what might be going on or what you might be experiencing. For example, experiencing anxiety is not bad, we all experience anxiety at some point, but when it becomes a corner stone or is always in the forefront such that everything revolves around it, it would be key to be “curious” about what you might be experiencing. What could have triggered it? What is happening inside your body?  What would occur if you would sit with this experience of anxiety instead of trying to push it away? What is this (experience of anxiety) trying to inform me? What would help right now, is this a fact, feeling or a thought?  These are just some questions you can ask yourself as you develop a sense of curiosity around any mental health challenge or behaviour you might have. 

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Understanding Teen Behaviours Tip #2 = Using the S.T.O.P. Acronym:

I think at times as parents or even as teens we can get frustrated over an event, moment, experience we do not like, and end up doing something we might regret. This Dialectical Distress Tolerance Tool helps in grounding and being present in the moment. It also helps one develop an understanding of what might be going on. It has been useful for me and other individuals I have worked with, and I think it might be useful for you too. 

Understanding Teen Behaviours Tip #3 Cultivate An Open, Honest Space

Sometimes we get caught up in a behaviour or a child’s performance instead of appreciating who they are as individuals. As a result, children may shy away from being emotionally vulnerable or honest and rather “act out” if I may say or “shut down”. This can also be as a result of a child, or a teen feeling out of control and may not have resources or useful strategies to help better express themselves. It would be important to not praise a child solely on their outcome/ performance but their process. An example could be instead of just saying “well done on your test”, one could say, “you really took the time, put in effort alongside hard work to achieve your goal. It’s been really beautiful to watch, well done”.  This also helps children note that even in adversity or if struggling they have support and have some will power in them. Its paramount for teens to know that they are loved for who they are and not what they do. Cultivating a space where a child or a teenager can be open and honest allows room for growth, change and mistakes. Cultivating such a space also means respecting and upholding boundaries as well. Establishing a respectful and trusting relationship is key. 

Understanding Teen Behaviours Tip #4: Responsive vs Reactive

Last but not least let’s work on being more responsive than reactive. This ties into emotional intelligence. Here is a picture that could phrase what I mean more clearly.



I would also say that the use of language is important when trying to understand the needs behind a behaviour. Using diminishing language gets you or a teen nowhere. Using loving terms and language that is filled with humility and concern could help. One should avoid shaming or humiliating a child or a teen even when concerned. Rather see the child or teen as a whole person. A tip on how to go about this is, putting yourself in another person’s shoes, would you like the language, tone of voice being used? How would you respond? 

I would like to leave you with a quote, and I hope this sparks some reflective moments in you:

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Please know that you are not alone on your journey. Sometimes, getting an outside perspective can really help – particularly for your teen, who may  need a neutral sounding board to discover the needs behind their own behaviours. You can book a complimentary meet and greet session with me below, to discover if I would be a good fit to support your teen with 1:1 therapy.

Book an Appointment

I am a registered social worker with a Bachelor of Social Work with a major in psychology from the university of the Western Cape, and a Master’s in Clinical Social Work specialization with individuals, families, and groups from the University of Calgary.

In my practice, I note the different intersectionalites that come into play, and I have adapted myself to understanding the effects thereof. I pride myself in working from a holistic and integrative approach using trauma-informed, anti-oppressive, and intersectional lenses in rendering services.

I am grounded by embracing my full humanness-being imperfectly perfect. My faith, family and friendships carry me through life and its happenings. I find being in nature very healing and so is savouring moments. When not working, I love to engage in some fitness, going on walks, journaling, catching up on Korean series, city adventures and reading for pleasure. I also believe in allowing my inner child come out sometimes through art, dancing, building sand castles you name it.

Supporting Teen Mental Health

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With May being Mental Health Awareness month, I’ve been reflecting on the progress we’ve made surrounding reducing stigma around teen mental health. When I was in high school, teen mental health wasn’t something openly discussed, even with close friends. Nowadays there are so many different avenues to discuss and digest content surrounding teen mental health, which is such an incredible shift to be a part of! The Canadian Government has recognized a need to share support avenues on this as well. You can take a look at their suggestions HERE.

After graduating from University and transitioning into the social services field,  I experienced a significant learning curve, particularly during my time working with at-risk youth. As this sparked my passion for working with youth and shaped me into the therapist I am today, I thought I’d share. 

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Early on in my time at the youth shelter, I became familiar with youth “acting out” for attention and the many different ways this could present. Sometimes acting out can involve a teen screaming, using very creative and colourful language, breaking belongings or damaging property. For parents and supporters, dealing with these behaviours can often be challenging and if they persist, they can be incredibly draining and even weigh on your own mental health. It can be difficult to know the right answer for how to deal with them effectively.

Some individuals argue that the solution is to ignore “acting out” for attention because it increases the likelihood of it continuing. However, I’ve observed that when teens “act out” in an undesirable way, it can mean that a need is not being met.

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If a teen is looking for attention and is ignored, the message they are receiving is that their feelings are too much, and they should suppress them. If we ignore, then the teen is taught that affection, connection, and attention are withheld in response to big emotions.

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Alternatively, holding space for these emotions gives teens the opportunity to process and work through them. This is how teens learn to process and regulate their emotions. They are learning to navigate the world around them by looking to their parents and other adult supporters to model these skills to them. You can learn more about talking to teens about mental health from my colleagues blog article: Normalizing Talking About Teen Mental Health.’


Sometimes, having a third party supporter that is not emotionally connected, can give your teen an outlet to understand and regulate their emotions. This skill is something I work with teens on regularly. I provide online 1:1 support for residents in Alberta, or in-person for Calgary, Alberta teens. Getting to know me and asking questions about therapy for teens doesn’t cost a thing. You can book a complimentary call with me HERE.

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Hi there! My name is Ally and I am a MA student therapist working with teens, parents, and young adults in Calgary, Alberta. I am passionate about helping others and one of the greatest honours of my life is being able to listen and hold space for other people’s stories. 

 When I am not working, I enjoy listening to music, spending time with family and friends, hiking, and indoor cycling. I love exploring new places with some of my favourites being Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Spain, Iceland, as well as Vancouver Island. 

 Calgary is home, but I will take any opportunity to travel!

Teen Mental Health Check up : How Are They Doing?

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but let’s face it – Every Day should involve mental health awareness, especially at this time. The constant unknowns, missing out on friends, grads, sports, social gatherings and changes occurring in response to Covid-19 are sending many teens into a spiral of overwhelmed and anxious emotions. As parents and adults, you may be finding yourself in a similar situation where it is hard to look on the bright side or find motivation to get yourself out of this rut.

Are you noticing your teen spending hours in their room? Do they lack energy and motivation to get their tasks done?

Let’s talk about mental health and how to know when your teen is needing more support.

Making mental health a top priority can help flip things around for your teen. You might already know that if you want to feel better physically, you figure out the gaps and make changes to things like exercise, rest, and eating habits. Just like your physical health, if you want to feel better mentally, it starts with figuring out the gaps and making changes that will support your teen feel better.

Let’s break this down into 3 sections:

  1. Your Teen’s Current Level of Functioning
  2. Red Flags That Your Teen Needs Extra Support
  3. How to Help as a Parent

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Your Teen’s Current Functioning

How is your teen doing? There are 5 main areas that you can take stock of that will help you determine how they are doing. The first area is their current supports. Paying attention and asking questions to learn about their friend groups and their connections is the place to start. Supports may be peers, adults or even pets! Be curious about who your teen is talking to – is it you? An older sibling? A teacher? Their best friend? They don’t need to have many people, but it is important to have a few options.

The second area that influences teen mental health is current stressors. Stress is not always a bad thing – it can help your teen prepare for a test or perform in their sport. However, there’s a tipping point where stress zaps energy and motivation away. You can try checking in with your teen by asking things like:

  • What are 3 things you think about most of the time? 
  • What’s been stressing you out lately at school/with friends/at home? 
  • What’s one thing (or person) that’s been annoying you lately?
  • If you could take one thing away from your daily tasks what would it be? 
  • How would you like to spend more of your time? (The answer to this one may surprise you!)

Dialing into what kind of stressors are most impacting your teens right now will give you an idea of how they are doing.

Once you know what’s stressing them out, then you want to know how much this causes issues. In other words, how much is the problem disrupting their day to day? Is their stress keeping them up at night? Is it something they think about every day? Are there physical effects caused by the stress – like headaches or stomach aches? Stress in small doses can build your teen’s stress resilience or, in other words, their ability to deal with stress. I wrote a blog specifically on stress – Why Stress About Stress – A Teen’s Guide to Handling the Ups and Downs – which includes the different zones you can pay attention to.

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Next, you want to have a sense of your teen’s coping strategies. How do they deal with their problems and challenges? I often talk to teens about the concept of ESD (express. soothe. distract.) Although it is important to build coping strategies in all of these areas for the best mental health outcomes, people do have a tendency to have a more dominant way of handling struggles – and that’s ok.

Express is all about finding ways to let out the thoughts, feelings, and energy behind what is troubling you. Express could be:

  • Talking to a friend
  • Going for a run
  • Listening to music
  • Painting or drawing
  • Creative writing
  • Journaling
  • Screaming into a pillow
  • Tearing paper
  • Crying

Soothe is about finding ways to calm your mind and body. It’s like helping your nervous system do a little reset. We all need a little reset sometimes. Soothe could be:

  • Crying
  • Hugging
  • Going for a walk
  • Taking a nap
  • Wearing a favourite sweater
  • Giving yourself a hug
  • Having a warm drink
  • Taking a bath
  • Massage
  • Meditation
  • Yoga

Distract is usually the dominant one for most teens that I first start working with. Anything that gets your mind off the problem can be considered a distraction. Some examples are:

  • Watching TV, YouTube, or social media
  • Hanging out with a friend
  • Going for a run
  • Playing video games
  • Playing with your pet
  • Finding something funny
  • Cooking/baking
  • Creating art
  • Listening to music

As you may have noticed some coping skills fit into more than one category. It depends on the outcome – what does this coping skill help me do: express myself, distract myself, soothe myself, or a bit of everything? To give your teen a whole list of coping strategies to try, download our free Mental Health Handbook for Teens (illustrations done by a teen!) here.

Last and certainly not least is whether they are asking for support. If your teen is saying they’d like to talk to someone or they’re not sure how to handle things, this is important to listen to. You can read about the different supports I offer in my blog article: Everything You Need To Know About Therapy – On And Off The Couch.

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Red Flats *Pay Attention To These!*

You may have a decent idea of your teen’s current functioning. In the above conversations, you may have even brought some of those pieces to your teen’s awareness. Teen’s are going to have ups and downs – it’s part of being human and especially part of being a teen human. Here are some red flags; things you want keep an eye out for that will let you know your teen’s mental health is suffering:

  • Your teen is feeling worthless, hopeless, helpless, or rejected
  • You notice a major lack of energy or motivation in daily activities
  • There are sudden changes like withdrawing or isolating themselves from things
  • A significant decline in school performance (e.g. super hard to concentrate or get motivated)
  • Consistent trouble concentrating or thinking clearly
  • Trouble sleeping or eating
  • Decline in personal hygiene beyond the typical stuff (here is an article you can read on this topic)
  • Your teen has a lot of negative thoughts, or thoughts that spiral down out of control (e.g. thinking of dying or suicide)
  • Your teen says they are hearing voices or seeing things that others don’t

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How To Help as a Parent

1. Put your oxygen mask on first. I’m not a fan of “musts and shoulds” most of the time, but this one is imperative! You must take care of yourself in order to support your teen. If you are burnt out, overwhelmed, or crazy stressed, you not only don’t have the energy to help your teen, you also set a precedent on how to take care of yourself and your mental health.

Stop. I don’t want you to make yourself wrong or bad about this. Just notice. Pay attention to how you take care of your own mental health. What message do you think it is sending to your teen about how to take care of their own mental health? What is the message you would like them to pick up about their mental health? Check out this resource on avoiding parent burnout!

2. Making time to listen and check-in with your teens on a regular basis is important. It doesn’t always have to be on the topic of mental health of course, but that topic needs to be on the table for discussion. Some teens have said to me they enjoy going for drives with a parent or going for a walk and just talking. Others have check-ins with their parents just before bed or around the dinner table. You can collaborate with your teen and find ways that work in your family to have undistracted, tech free conversations on a regular basis.

3. Ask how you can help. If your teen is struggling with a specific issue like anxiety, school stress, friendship stuff, start by asking them how you can help. You can give a few ideas if that question is met with I don’t know or a dazed look. Sometimes I will ask ‘are you looking for ideas to resolve the problem or to vent and just have me listen right now’?

4. Get help from others. Hook your teen up with resources that are specific to supporting their mental health. Here are just a few:

If you decide after your mental health check-up with your teen that it would be helpful to work with someone, connect with us over at Pyramid Psychology 403.812.1716 (call or text) or email us at info@pyramidpsychology.com.


If you found this post helpful, pass it on by emailing a friend or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook – Thanks!

Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with.

If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook.