How To Turn Conflict With Your Teen Into a Calm Discussion

Mother and daughter

Negotiations around independence, boundaries, and responsibilities create the most conflict between teens and their parents. Developmentally, these negotiations are essential markers of their growing autonomy.

Conflict is often a manifestation of your teen’s internal struggle with striving to become an adult while still wanting the support given to them as a child. In other words, having conflict with your teen is normal.

Sometimes, teens are ready for more independence than you are prepared to give. Other times they can not handle the level of independence they want but demand it anyway.

Additionally, their ability to follow through on their home and school responsibilities becomes the point of many arguments. Follow-through ability is rooted in time management responsibilities–which teens are just learning–their brain is actually growing this skill right now.  Your family culture either supports the growth of those skills or it undermines that skill building by allowing her skirting responsibilities or follow through.

I mention these things because, if you can view these conflicts as being the result of your teen learning independence and responsibility, which is what she is supposed to be doing developmentally, you can avoid taking her actions personally. Instead, you’ll be able to address her actions strategically, in a way that supports her development.

Here are a few strategies to keep conflicts from escalating to yelling and door slamming–at least most of the time:

1. Recognize when a conflict has begun

We often don’t realize we are engaged in a conflict until we find ourselves already yelling or stomping out of the room.

The key to avoiding major fights with your teen is to see conflicts coming from a mile away, when the level of anger is still manageable. When people are already heated up it can be very difficult to change the direction of an argument. However, if you can spot an argument coming, you will have more control over whether it continues.

Ask yourself:

Is there a time of day my daughter and I frequently argue? Is there a place my daughter and I frequently argue? Is there a topic that always ends in a fight no matter how hard I try not to get angry?

How do I feel in my body when a fight begins to ramp up? Do I feel tense or scared, pump my fists, or raise my voice? (See #2, Body Check, below.)

Answering these questions can help you recognize the beginning of a conflict. When you see it coming, you will have more control in directing the course of the conversation and hopefully succeed in preventing an argument.

 

2. Body Check

The body check is the foundational skill of all conflict management. After a difficult conversation with your teen, practice taking time-out and just breathing quietly for a few moments. Then, observe how your body feels. The more acutely aware you are of your own emotional fluctuations while in the company of your teenager, the more control you will have in managing your emotions and, by extension, the more success you will have in managing conflict with her.

3. Move Slowly, very Slowly

Conflict tends to be a rapid-fire embroilment with lots of yelling and talking over one another, and very little listening. Everyone’s heart rate speeds up when they are in a conflict. The body goes into fight mode.

Instead, slow down your voice, your response to questions, your body movements, and your questions. Your teen is likely to follow your lead. Hopefully, you’ve just slowed the escalation into fight mode.

 

4. Listen and Clarify

Once you have slowed things down, slow her down further by asking more questions and listening to your teen’s responses. Let your teen do the talking. Let her blow off any steam.

The more you listen, the less she will feel combative with you.

5. Give yourself time to think about it

Sometimes a conflict can occur because of a belief that we must solve a problem right now.

In fact, sometimes your teen will feel like an issue is such an emergency that they will want you to join them in their feeling of fear, thereby demanding that you give them an answer or permission to do something right away. As a parent, you might forget that you have a right to take time and think about things before responding or committing, even if your teen thinks it’s ridiculous that you can’t give them an answer “RIGHT NOW!”

When you relieve yourself of this urgency, you will feel less pressure and will feel less combative with your teen. You’ll also set a great precedent while you’re at it.

6. No Name Calling

No matter how bad it gets, don’t make it worse by calling your teen names.

Every conflict you have with your teen is not just a short-term issue you are solving together in the moment but is also a long-term lesson in conflict resolution. If you call her a name, you are teaching her that name-calling is an acceptable “skill” in conflict management. And you can count on her calling you a name in a conflict very soon.

6. Body Check

The body check is the foundational skill of all conflict management. After a difficult conversation with your teen, practice taking time-out and just breathing quietly for a few moments. Then, observe how your body feels. The more acutely aware you are of your own emotional fluctuations while in the company of your teenager, the more control you will have in managing your emotions and, by extension, the more success you will have in managing conflict with her.

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