Picture this: Thomas, a 16-year-old high school junior who has lived in the same town his entire life, is suddenly informed by his parents that they will be moving to a different state. This news comes as a shock to him because it means leaving behind his friends, school, and the familiar environment he has known since childhood. As you can guess, this period of adjustment can make Thomas feel vulnerable and fearful about the future. Major changes can be difficult for adolescents, as coping skills for teens are minimal compared to adults, due to limited life experiences.

The good news is that a caregiver’s guidance can go a long way in helping teens thrive through transitions. In this article, you will learn how to support teens who are going through big life changes. 

Acknowledging the Impact of Life Changes

Life changes can be challenging because they bring forth our fear of the unknown and make us feel like we are losing control. During transitions, we are naturally brought out of our comfort zones and forced to leave behind familiar aspects of our lives. 

For teens, life changes could mean any of the following:

  • Relocating to a new place due to a parent’s job or family circumstances
  • Transitioning from middle school to high school or changing schools
  • Dealing with the separation of parents
  • Losing old friends or having disagreements with friends
  • Entering or leaving their first romantic relationship
  • Coping with the loss of a loved one
  • Experiencing financial instability or a decline in the family’s financial situation
  • Dealing with a chronic illness or disability

We need to recognize and address the effects of these changes because they can trigger stress, anxiety, sadness, or other negative emotions that may be difficult for teens to use coping skills without the loving support of a caregiver.

Recognizing Signs of Difficulty in Teens

Every teen is different, and some teens might cope with big life changes better than others.

Here are signs that your teenager may be struggling:(*)

  • Sadness or depression
  • Anger and irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Persistent anxiety or worrying
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Negative changes in academic performance
  • Withdrawal or social isolation
  • Substance abuse
  • Self-harm

These signs may not just indicate difficulty during life changes but also other underlying issues. Not all teens may show that they are struggling, so regular communication and active listening can help you identify the signs properly.

Essential Coping Skills for Teens

Teens need guidance in learning healthy coping skills, which can help them navigate through big life changes. Examples include calling a friend, crying it out, getting a hug, or going for a brisk walk. Below are other coping skills for teens that could be helpful:

Emotional Regulation

Emotional regulation refers to a person’s ability to properly manage and respond to their emotions. We use this skill to cope with difficult situations in our life. (*) Healthy emotional regulation strategies include writing in a journal, meditation, and therapy while alcohol abuse and self-injury are considered unhealthy. (*)

In a 2022 study, researchers looked at how teenagers coped with the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic. Findings suggest that positive reappraisal and emotional processing were positively linked to stress-related growth. (*)

Positive reappraisal involves looking at life challenges in a more positive light by considering how they promote growth or provide benefits. On the other hand, emotional processing involves expressing one’s emotions, rather than suppressing them. Stress-related growth refers to developing resilience due to stressful life challenges. (*)

Stress Management

Stress can be helpful because it can encourage teens to take action, but too much stress can be overwhelming. It can magnify difficulties and challenges, making it harder to solve problems. Prolonged stress can also contribute to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Here are some coping skills for teens to help manage their stress:

  • Use a calendar or planner to keep track of daily schedules.
  • Practice saying “No.” Avoid over-committing to too many things.
  • Ask for help when needed.
  • Make time for rest and play.
  • Schedule time for exercise.
  • Overcome perfectionism and accept results that are “good enough.”
  • Avoid negative self-talk.

Communication and Problem Solving

Communication skills can be beneficial because they allow teens to express their thoughts and emotions effectively. When experiencing life transitions, talking to friends, family, or trusted people can provide emotional support. This can make the process of coping less isolating. Moreover, life challenges also come with conflicts that need to be resolved. Problem-solving skills can help teens find solutions to their worries instead of dwelling on negative feelings. This allows them to feel a sense of control over their lives, which can reduce feelings of helplessness, stress, and anxiety.

Building Resilience and Support Systems

Resilience can be developed by overcoming challenges in life. Teens can also cultivate it by developing a growth mindset. 

Individuals with a fixed mindset may struggle with resilience because they are more likely to interpret challenges as indicators of their lack of ability. This is because they believe that abilities and intelligence are unchangeable. On the other hand, teens with a growth mindset believe their capabilities can be developed through hard work and learning. That’s why they tend to be more resilient and open to taking on new challenges. 

During these challenging times, teens also need a support system that can help provide emotional support, guidance, mentorship, and positive influence. These could be their family, friends, educators, counselors, or caregivers.

Additional Tips for Parents and Educators

A collaborative effort from parents and educators can help teens deal with life’s challenges. Below are tips and strategies that can help:

  • Promote open communication. Create a supportive environment where teens can feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings. Show genuine interest and listen actively without judgment. Talking, in itself, is a coping skill for teens to express their feelings.
  • Encourage independence. Independence helps build resilience. Allow teens to make age-appropriate decisions so they can learn from their choices. Offer guidance by helping them weigh the pros and cons of decisions and consider the potential consequences.
  • Provide resources for mental health. Educators can share information about counseling services, workshops, or helplines that address mental health. Parents should seek mental health professionals if they notice signs of severe distress in their teenagers.

Help Teens Handle Life’s Challenges

Sometimes, life surprises us with challenges and problems we have no control over. Dealing with these difficulties can be overwhelming for teens. You’re their role model, so how you manage the obstacles life throws your way makes quite the impression on adolescents learning coping skills for teens that can be used for a lifetime. The support you offer as a trusted adult in your teen’s life can make a significant impact. Keep being there for them, offer guidance, and show love so they can build resilience to adversity! 

About The Author


Michael Vallejo is a Child & Family Therapist with a private practice in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Through Mental Health Center Kids he hopes to support other therapists, parents, teachers, and mental health professionals with visually appealing online resources to support the well-being of kids in their care.
Teen Mental health: How to know when your child needs help. (n.d.). HealthyChildren.org. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/teen/Pages/Mental-Health-and-Teens-Watch-for-Danger-Signs.aspx
ROLSTON, A., & LLOYD-RICHARDSON, E. (n.d.). What is emotion regulation and how do we do it? Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery. https://www.selfinjury.bctr.cornell.edu/perch/resources/what-is-emotion-regulationsinfo-brief.pdf 
Allen, K., Waters, L., Arslan, G., & Prentice, M. (2022). Strength‐based parenting and stress‐related growth in adolescents: Exploring the role of positive reappraisal, school belonging, and emotional processing during the pandemic. Journal of Adolescence, 94(2), 176–190. https://doi.org/10.1002/jad.12016