Youth and the Importance of Quieting: Part 3 – How to Help Teens Build the Skill of Quieting

In my final blog of this series on quieting, I will discuss what it looks like to quiet as well as how we as a community can support  teens in developing this skill. If you were not about to read parts one and two of this blog series thus far, I would encourage you to read them so you can get the most out of this article. In the first post, I discussed what quieting is and how important it is to overall health. In my second post, I talked about the current prevalence around teens struggling with their inability to quiet.

Quieting is the ability to calm the body and mind after high energy or intense emotions. While I will share a few quieting exercises with you later Importantly, we often need to see others quiet before we can learn to do it ourselves. This means that teens need someone in their life who is able to quiet and show them how this can be done before they try(1) it themselves. Therefore, if we help teens in our lives learn to quiet, we need to provide an example for them to follow. As we share the process of moving from a big emotion to a calmer state, teens will be able to observe how their body relaxes and know they are capable of quieting their intense emotions as well. 

Sometimes when we are learning to quiet, our nervous system is too activated, and we need someone else to quiet with us(1). This is called co-regulation. It is important to remember this concept with teens, as they may not be able to engage in quieting on their own, but will react (demonstratively at times). They may need someone to walk them through the process enough times to build their neuropathways so they can eventually quiet on their own. Another helpful thing to remember is a teen’s need for rhythm. When we have a high-energy day or high-energy emotion, our body needs quiet(1). This may mean time to disconnect from others to intentionally calm the body and mind before interacting with more people or moving on to the next task. As adults it is important to recognize when a teen needs to calm in order to release them from expectation to quickly move on to another task or engage with people; instead, we can be patient and validate their needs. Then, after a time, we can encourage them to get back to what they need to do. 

Secondly,  it is also important to encourage teens to quiet when they are continuously pushing themselves too hard and reaching a point of burnout. Sometimes teens feel so much pressure to succeed that they feel guilty or lazy about resting. At that point, they may need a reminder and encouragement that everyone needs to rest. At times, teens carry so much energy that they need to release it before quieting(1). This could look like going for a run or working out. When helping teens learn to quiet, it is important to remember we can’t just expect them to go right from high-to-low energy. This can be challenging as parents, teachers, and coaches when it seems that teens won’t focus due to pent-up energy. These teens may need a way to release their pent-up energy before they are able to quiet and then focus. [On this note, if your teen is regularly working through hyperactivity or distractibility without reprieve, it may be due to neurodivergence. A great assessment for this can be found here!]

The books Four Habits of Joy Filled People by Chris Coursey and Marcus Warner, and Building Bounce by Marcus Warner and Stephanie Hinam, have an acronym (“BEST”) to describe the four best practices for quieting our mind and body(1,2).  Following these will not solve the problem or take away the emotion. However, these guidelines will allow teens to reduce big emotions to a manageable level. Teens can think more clearly about the situation and not become overwhelmed. These are also not the only ways to quiet, but they are some suggestions that have been effective for many people and give ideas about how to build the skill with your teen:

  • B stands for box breathing; this is an exercise where you breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, exhale for four counts, and then hold again for four counts. When our nervous system is on overdrive or we have been overstimulated by high-energy situations like high joy or high stress, practicing breathing is an easy way to let our system know that we can calm down. It doesn’t have to be box breathing, but it is a simple exercise to do. The point is more to take deep breaths and allow your mind and body to quiet.
  • E stands for exaggeration, which entails exaggerating the physical expression of whatever intense emotion it is that you’re feeling. For example, if you are feeling angry, you might go to a private room by yourself and make the Hulk pose, flare your nostrils, and hold it for a few seconds. The point is to allow that emotion to come to its peak so that your mind and body can quiet after. This exaggeration is helpful however it is important to note that the physical expression you choose to exaggerate needs to be an expression through body language or a facial expression and should not be a behavior like punching a pillow. The reason for this is that we do not want to attach behavior to emotion especially if it is inappropriate behavior. To me, as a dancer, this exercise makes sense. At first, it may seem strange; however, when we are experiencing an intense emotion allowing our body to express and feel that emotion is a form of validating our experience and giving us a way to release it. Although they do not discuss this in the book, there are other exercises in various therapeutic approaches that have a similar concept. For example, art therapy can be used to help embrace and express an intense emotion or thought.
  • S stands for soothe and sing. The basic idea is to do something with your body that provides comfort. Some examples are splashing your face with cold water, cuddling up in a chair with a weighted blanket, taking a hot bath, putting on diffusers, or burning a scented candle. Another example is to give yourself physical comfort. Wrap your arms around yourself and rub your shoulders, take deep breaths, and keep your head facing forward, but move your eyes side to side and up and down. This can help distract you from upsetting emotions and comfort your body. Singing is also a beneficial way to soothe our senses. It helps the right and left sides of our brain communicate. Sing a worship song or a song that brings you comfort and hope.
  • T stands for tell yourself the truth. One component of telling yourself the truth is to become aware of toxic or maladaptive thinking and tell yourself the truth to combat negative thoughts. An example of this may be feeling angry because a friend canceled plans with you. The negative thought may be, “they don’t like me” or “they  don’t want to hang out with me” or even “I must have done something inappropriate.” The truth could be, “I don’t know why they canceled” or “maybe they are upset, but I won’t know until I talk with them” or maybe “I can’t fix it unless they let me know what I’ve done.” 

Another component of telling yourself the truth is what these authors refer to as VCR.

  • Validate – Identify how you are feeling and how big it is. “I am stressed which is overwhelming me, and I can’t do what I need to” or “I was startled, but only a little bit. I think I can move past it.”
  • Comfort – Tell yourself the truth about what you need for comfort and recovery. “I need some time by myself to unwind” or “I could use some company. I really don’t want to be alone.”
  • Recover – Tell yourself the truth about something you notice. As you notice that you are returning to a calm state, you know the previous steps have been effective. If you haven’t been able to quiet you may need something more. “Taking the time alone was helpful, I feel calm and ready to address the situation” “That was helpful but I still can’t relax maybe I need to release some energy.”

You do not need to use all four practices, but finding ones that work for you or your teen and practicing them is what is important. Remember you may need to go through them with your teen, or it may be beneficial to find someone else to help them learn these practices. Finding a counselor could be a place for your teen to learn these practices.

If you think this information and these skills would benefit your teen, you may be interested in the teen girl’s group I am starting at the Center for Family Transformation that will be focused on building resilience.  Resilience is the ability to return from distressing situations and upsetting emotions. Quieting is an important aspect of building resilience, and we will cover the skill of quieting in the group. If you have a daughter aged 15-17 that may benefit from this, I hope she will join us starting on Feb 14th

References

1. Marcus Warner and Chris M. Coursey, The 4 Habits of Joy-Filled People: 15 Minute Brain Science Hacks to a More Connected and Satisfying Life (Chicago: Northfield Publishing, 2023).

 2. Marcus Warner and Stefanie Hinman, Building Bounce: How to Grow Emotional Resilience (Carmel, IN: Deeper Walk International, 2020).

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