Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

My Teen Son is Too Emotionally Intense

I Don't Know How to Handle Emotional Intensity

Dear Dr. G.,

I have three very different kinds of kids. My 10 and 7 year old are very calm and easygoing like me and my husband. My 13 year old son, on the other hand, is high-strung, particularly at home with his younger siblings. He seems to do fine with his peers at least as far as I know. My husband and I have a good marriage. I think that our mutual tendency to let things go and not hold grudges has made the marriage go well.

My 13 year old seems to bicker with his younger siblings unnecessarily. They are younger and more immature than him so of course they are going to be a bit annoying at times. I really dislike seeing my 13 year old get so worked up with them. I don't think it's healthy for him or for them. I just want a peaceful home.

At the same time, my 13 year old is asking for more privileges outside of the home. I understand this. He is a teenager now and he should be trying to become more independent. My problem is that how do I give my son more privileges when he acts so immature with his siblings? Wouldn't that be reinforcing his negative behavior at home? I guess you see my dilemma. My husband and I are eagerly awaiting your advice.

A Confused Mother

Dear Mother,

You are just one step away from answering your own question. We are all born with different temperamental styles. It sounds like your high-strung son was born into a family of calmer siblings and parents. I have seen this often and it is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, we can put a positive spin on it. In these sorts of families people have the benefit of learning how to interact with individuals with different temperaments. Let's face it-in the world we deal with all types of people so we are lucky if we get some practice at home.

As far as you being a step away from answering your own question-how about helping your son calm down a bit at home by making earning privileges with his friends contingent on his behavior with his siblings? When he is paying attention to his behavior he is more likely to change it. This is true of all sorts of behaviors. When we pay attention to what we eat, for example, we are likely to eat less.

I would also suggest that you make sure that the kids have enough space in the house to take a break from each other. Yes, sometimes we all need alone time to decompress. I also suggest that you take a look at the younger kids' behavior and see if they are enjoying pushing their more emotional brother's buttons. They, too, may bear, some responsibility for the sibling dynamic.

My guess is that things will calm down in your home. The motivation for a teenager to earn privileges and independence is very strong. Focus on being consistent and write back to me and let me know how things are going.

Good Luck,

Dr. G.

For more articles like this see my website:

More from Barbara Greenberg Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today
More from Barbara Greenberg Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today