Learning to Manage Emotions


If you saw a teenager or an adult cry and scream when they didn’t get their way, what would you think? You would probably find this behavior strange and childlike.  Teenagers and adults are supposed to have a better handle on their emotions than children do.   Children tend to immediately express their emotional reactions in an overt and sometimes dramatic way.  For example, it is normal for children to cry or complain when they are told they have to eat their vegetables before getting to eat dessert. But as you get older you tend to grow out of crying and complaining when you don’t get everything that you want.  Adults might act like children at times, but this behavior is usually viewed as bizarre and immature. Here’s an example:

Eventually, children begin to learn more appropriate ways to express their excitements and disappointments. This happens in a few different ways and for a few different reasons.  As we grow up we begin to recognize that the way we express our feelings has an impact on other people.  If we scream and cry in school in front of our classmates, we begin to learn that this makes our teachers angry and makes our classmates uncomfortable or nervous around us-they will think we are immature.

When the people around us have a negative or positive response to the way we express our feelings we learn from those experiences.  If the responses to our emotions are positive, we learn that this is a comfortable environment to share feelings and that we communicated our feelings in an appropriate way.  If the responses to our emotions are negative, we either learn to behave differently by expressing our emotions less intensely, we attempt to convey our feelings in a different way, or we can choose manage our emotions privately. We also learn over time that we need to behave and express ourselves differently in different settings. We behave and express ourselves differently in a class or a house of worship than we would when hanging around with friends.

As we grow up our emotional expression changes for another reason too. Babies, before they learn to speak, can only let people around them know how they feel by crying, smiling or openly and directly expressing emotion. As children grow and learn how to speak and express themselves with words, they have more ability to communicate with language in addition to expressing emotions. We can tell people we are sad or angry instead of screaming or throwing things.

Learning to manage your feelings and emotions is so important to your social life, as a teenager and an adult.  If you have difficulty managing and communicating your emotions it can make others uneasy around you.  On the other hand, knowing how to manage and communicate your emotions with your friends and family will help you form stronger and deeper connections. Generally, you learn how to do this as you get older and from interactions with the people around you but if this is a skill you want to improve, check out Techniques for Managing Difficult Emotions.

Want to hear more from Set to Go? Get updates about Set to Go and other JED news.

By submitting this form, you agree to receive emails from The Jed Foundation (JED). View our Privacy Policy, Terms of Use, and Contact Information.

Go to Video...