Conflict management skills: why you need them
During the teenage years, you might clash with your child more often than you did in the past.
You might disagree about things like what your child wears, what she does with her time, or how long she’s allowed to be on social media. If you grew up in a different country and want to keep your cultural and religious traditions, you might find that your child no longer feels these traditions are relevant to her.
This is pretty normal. As your child’s thinking and understanding of the world develops, he might start to question and challenge you more. This is part of his journey towards independence and responsible young adulthood.
On top of that, some conflict in relationships is healthy. It shows that you and your child are individuals with your own views. Conflict can help you to get to know each other as adults and to consider each other’s needs.
But too much conflict isn’t a good thing, so you need conflict management strategies and skills.
Dealing with conflict with your child can help to keep stress levels down for the whole family. It can deepen and strengthen your relationship with your child in the end. And if you deal with conflict in effective ways, you help your child learn some important life skills.
It’s worth picking your battles. Conflict can often be about small things. So even if you dislike your child’s dyed hair, think about whether it’s really worth arguing about. You might want to save your energy for important things – like safety.
Dealing with conflict: tips
Here are some tips to help you when you’re dealing with conflict with your child.
Tips for getting ready to talk
- Try to think back to your feelings and experiences as a young person. This can help you relate to your child.
- Remember that teenage brain development means your child might not be able to see the big picture in terms of risks and consequences. Your child might not be able to see things from your perspective either.
- If you’re ready to be flexible about little issues, your child might be more willing to listen and discuss more important family issues.
- Go easy on yourself and don’t expect to be perfect – you’re human too. If you overreact or lose your self-control a bit, just say sorry and start again when you can.
- It’s best not to try to deal with conflict when you and your child are feeling upset or angry. Wait until you feel calm instead.
- Prepare what you’re going to say and think about the words you want to use.
- Try to make sure that not every conversation with your child is about difficult issues. Try to spend some time enjoying each other’s company.
Tips for talking
Stay calm, stop what you’re doing, make eye contact, listen, and treat your child with respect.
- Let your child have her say. Be open to hearing your child’s point of view. When she’s done, you can talk.
- Be open about your feelings. This can help your child to understand why you want him to do or not to do something. For example, ‘I feel worried about your safety when I don’t know where you are’, or ‘I feel that it’s important for our family to carry on celebrating some of our cultural traditions’.
- Explain your view simply and briefly, making it clear that your main concern is for your child’s wellbeing, now and in the future. Teenagers who feel their parents are asking questions because they care are more likely to share the information you need. For example, ‘I need to make sure you’re safe if you’re out at night. It helps if you tell me where you’re going and who you’re with’.
- If you can, be prepared to negotiate with your child and compromise. When you compromise, you demonstrate problem-solving skills. For example, your child might want to paint her bedroom black, and you hate the idea. A compromise might be painting one wall black or two walls in a dark colour.
- If you have to say ‘no’, try to do it in a calm, understanding and respectful way. For example, ‘I understand that you want a tattoo. But you’re 13 and you’ve got a lot of time to think about it. So right now, the answer is no’.
Tips for dealing with conflict aftermath
- Despite your best efforts, your child might still feel really disappointed or it might take a while for him to calm down. Try to go with it if you can.
- Help your child to calm down by showing your understanding, letting her vent a bit or giving her space if she needs it.
- Check later whether your child would like your help to deal with the situation, but try not to take it personally if he wants to handle it himself.
- Look after yourself – talking to someone you trust can help you feel better about the situation.
Your child might try to avoid conflict by doing things ‘behind your back’ or lying to you. If you want an open and honest relationship where you and your child can talk about tough topics, you need to be ready to manage your own feelings and reactions when you hear something you don’t like. Planning ahead for issues you think you might find difficult – such as broken curfews, alcohol and drug use, cyberbullying and so on – can help.
Handling anger in conflict management
As part of conflict management with teenagers, you might need to be ready to deal with anger from your child.
It might help to know that teenagers are still learning how to express feelings and views. Your child might feel she needs to express her views very strongly for them to be heard. Teenagers are also learning how to handle strong feelings.
So if your child gets angry or uses an angry tone with you, it can help to:
- stay calm
- take a break to let things calm down, if staying calm is hard
- let your child know you’re listening
- show your child that you care about his thoughts and feelings
- try to stick to the issue you’re in conflict about, rather than getting onto past events or other issues.
After you’ve heard what your child has to say and you’ve shown understanding:
- take your time to express your feelings, thoughts and wishes as best you can
- keep it simple and short – this can encourage your child to listen
- try to negotiate a decision that you can both live with, or at least try to be clear about why you can’t agree.
If your child is angry at you about something you did that hurt her, show that you understand how it affected her, say you’re sorry, and then try to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen again.
If you feel angry
, take some time to pin down what the feeling is about – even if you’re in the middle of a conversation with your child. You might even need to take a break so you can work out how you’re going to deal with your feelings. This isn’t always easy and takes practice – so be kind to yourself and your child as you learn better ways of dealing with conflict.
There is a difference between conflict and violence. Conflict, disagreement and some anger are OK – but violence is not OK.
Teenagers are still learning about what’s OK and what isn’t. They might still be learning where the line is between conflict and violence – for example, in fights with siblings – and you can help.
But if a teenager is becoming violent – for example, damaging property, yelling or swearing excessively, hitting or making threats to harm something or someone – you need to set clear boundaries to show him that he has crossed the line and his behaviour isn’t acceptable.
If your child is showing early signs of violent behaviour, it can help to:
- give her a clear message that the behaviour is not OK
- tell her that you won’t speak with her while she’s in that state
- let her know that you’re willing to talk to her and work things out together when she has calmed down
- let her know that that there will be consequences for the behaviour
- make sure your own behaviour is respectful, and that you’re managing your own emotions and modelling self-control.
If your child has experienced violence from another adult or child, he might need professional help to feel safe, to deal with what he has experienced, and to learn new ways to behave. If you find it hard to control your own anger or violence, you might also find professional help useful. There are services and support organisations
that can help you both.