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Conflict management with teenagers

9-18 years

Now that your child is older, you might find you clash more often. It’s normal for you to disagree, but it’s also important to find ways of dealing with conflict. And when you use conflict management strategies yourself, you can help your child learn these important life skills too.

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. For example, you might disagree about things like what your child wears, what he does with his time, or whether he follows your cultural traditions.

Some conflict is normal and healthy, as your child becomes an independent and responsible young adult. Also, you and your child are individuals with different opinions and views, so you can expect to disagree sometimes.

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 reduce family stress levels. It can also make your relationship with your child stronger. 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.

Getting ready to deal with conflict: tips

These tips can help you get ready to deal with conflict with your child:

  • 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 risks and consequences of a situation. Your child might not be able to see things from your perspective either.
  • Try to be flexible about little issues. This might mean your child is more willing to listen and discuss bigger 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.
  • Avoid dealing 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. Spend some time enjoying each other’s company if you can.

Talking through conflict: tips

  • 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 has finished, you can talk.
  • Be open about your feelings. This can help your child understand why you want him to do or not 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 celebrate 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. 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’.

Dealing with conflict aftermath: tips

Despite your best efforts, it might take a while for you and your child to calm down after a conflict. Also, your child might feel really disappointed if you’ve said no to something. These tips can help you both feel better and move forward.

  • Help your child to calm down by showing your understanding, letting him express his disappointment, or giving him space if he needs it.
  • Look after yourself – talking to someone you trust can help you feel better about the situation.
If you and your child need help dealing with conflict or talking through your feelings after conflict, support is available. Your child could call Kids Helpline on 1800 022 222. You could try calling Parentline on 1300 301 300.

When your child avoids conflict

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. It can help to plan for difficult conversations about things like broken curfews, alcohol and other drug use, cyberbullying and so on.

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, here are some things that can help:

  • 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, you can try these steps:

  • 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.

Handling violence

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. You can help with this.

But if your child is damaging property, yelling or swearing excessively, hitting or making threats to harm something or someone, you need to set clear boundaries. It’s important 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. A school counsellor, family relationships counsellor or your GP might be good places to start.

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Last updated or reviewed
03-05-2018

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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