Just Listen: 3 Steps for Host Parents to get through to Frustrated Teens

“People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

This statement by American author, John Maxwell, holds true for helping angry teenagers. Only after angry teenagers feel understood and cared about will they be interested in accepting help from host parents or listening to coordinators.

Simply saying, “I understand how you feel” doesn’t usually help angry teenagers feel understood. The skills suggested in this article are simple, targeted at demonstrating empathy and can be especially effective to help angry teenagers feel understood by hearing a few well planned words.

Host Parenting Skills to Show Understanding

Step 1 - Stay Calm: 

Host Parents can better help angry teenagers by making a solid commitment to stay calm when a teen is upset. The “stay calm” skill can be extremely challenging for host parents, especially when teenagers make comments to be hurtful or push a host parent’s emotional “hot buttons.” Such comments can be ignored for the present and addressed at a later time.

“In rare instances when your kids do open up to you and try to express their feelings (sometimes in disrespectful ways), you may react negatively (with a disrespectful parent response),” write Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott in Positive Discipline for Teenagers (Three Rivers Press, 2000). “If you tell your child he shouldn’t feel that way or he should be more respectful, or if you counterattack him in any way, don’t be surprised when he grows up with the idea that it’s not okay to have feelings or that he should suppress them.” To help teenagers learn emotional skills, host parents must de-escalate conflicts instead of escalating them.

Step 2 - Validate Feelings Starting With a “You feel _____” Statement: 

After host parents master the “stay calm” skill, the next helpful tool is to validate the feelings of a teen using a “You feel ______” statement. (Fill in the blank with a feeling or emotion.) This skill is explained in Positive Discipline for Teenagers, as well as the book simply entitled Positive Discipline (Ballentine Books, 2006), also by Jane Nelson.


  •  “You feel angry.”
  • “You feel really hurt.”
  • “You feel furious.”

Host Parents are sometimes guessing at this point about an angry teenager’s exact feeling and parents may at times guess correctly and sometimes guess incorrectly. If a teen replies “no,” to a “You feel _______” statement, then parents should try again and make a second guess. When a host parent describes a teenager’s feelings, he or she is helping them to accurately label emotions as well as show understanding at the same time.

Step 3 – Offer an “I can understand how ______” statement: 

If applicable, parents can do more to completely validate feelings by offering a short sentence that supports the connection between an event and a teen’s feelings.


  • “I can understand how you’d be hurt. I’d be very hurt if my friends walked off and left me in that situation.”
  • “I can understand your anger. I would be extremely angry if a teacher talked to me that way.”

To recap, three important skills that show understanding to angry teenagers are:

  1. Stay calm
  2. Use a “You feel ______” statement
  3. Offer a “I can understand how ______” reply if applicable to completely validate feelings


The authors of Positive Discipline for Teenagers recommend developing a “feelings vocabulary” to label emotions. Developing a “feelings vocabulary” helps teens in two ways.  First of all, naming feelings for teens is a simple way to show understanding and secondly, it will help teens learn to label emotions for themselves.

A feelings list shows feeling words that host parents can use to show label the emotions of teens and show understanding by using a “You feel _______” statement. Most host parents think of basic emotions such as mad, sad and glad, but don’t think specifically enough to label emotions such as overwhelmed, lonely or rejected.

A plan to stay calm, label emotions and validate feelings can help angry teenagers feel understood and possibly open up to better understand their emotions. Using these positive discipline skills on a frequent basis can increase the likelihood that teens will learn to understand their anger and other strong emotions.

Adapted from article at Suite101: Helping Angry Teenagers: Parenting Skills That Show Understanding | Suite101.com