Conflict management: why it’s important when you’re raising teenagers
Some conflict with pre-teens and teenagers is natural and healthy.
Conflict happens because your child is becoming an independent and responsible young person with their own perspective and preferences. You can expect to disagree about things like what your child wears, what they do with their time, or whether they follow your cultural traditions.
But too much conflict isn’t a good thing, so conflict management is important.
Managing conflict with your child has many benefits. It can:
- help to reduce family stress levels
- make your relationship with your child stronger
- give you both the chance to explore and develop respect for each other’s perspectives
- help your child learn and practise important life skills like negotiation and compromise.
It’s worth picking your battles. If you can be flexible about little issues, you might be able to avoid some conflict. So even if you dislike your child’s dyed hair, think about whether it’s really worth arguing about. This might mean your child is more willing to listen and discuss bigger issues like safety.
Getting ready to manage conflict with pre-teens and teenagers
These tips can help you get ready to manage 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.
- Go easy on yourself and don’t expect to be perfect – you’re human too. If you overreact or get upset, 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.
Family rules about communicating with others can help you manage conflict. For example, your rules might include things like using respectful language, speaking in a calm voice, and letting other people talk without interrupting.
Managing conflict with pre-teens and teenagers
Conflict is a natural part of human relationships. It’s how you work through conflict that’s important. If you need to manage a conflict with your child, these tips can help things go well:
- Stay calm, stop what you’re doing, make eye contact, actively listen, and treat your child with respect.
- Let your child have their say. Be open to hearing your child’s point of view. When your child has finished, you can talk.
- Focus on the issue or the behaviour, and avoid general statements about your child. For example, ‘Taking your phone into your bedroom at night isn’t following our rule about devices’ rather than ‘You never follow the rules’.
- Be open about your feelings. This can help your child understand why you want them to do or not do something. For example, ‘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’.
- Negotiate with your child and compromise if you can. 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 belly button ring. But you’re 13 and you’ve got a lot of time to think about it. So right now, the answer is no’.
Make the most of everyday opportunities to talk with your child about little things. This strengthens your relationship and communication with your child, which helps when you need to deal with conflict.
Managing emotions and calming down after conflict with pre-teens and teenagers
After a conflict, your child might have strong emotions. For example, they might feel really disappointed if you’ve said no to something they wanted. They might feel embarrassed if they’ve lost their temper or said something they regret. Or they might feel very angry if something seems unfair, or doesn’t turn out the way they hoped.
If this happens, you can help your child calm down by noticing the strong emotion, naming it, pausing, and giving your child some space and time.
When your child has calmed down, you can address the behaviour or problem-solve the issue. For example:
- Try to negotiate a decision that you can both live with. For example, ‘Yes, you can go to the concert with Nina. You can get there on the train by yourselves, but I will pick you up when it finishes’.
- If your child is upset about a rule that you won’t or can’t change, acknowledge your child’s emotions but avoid a debate. For example, ‘I know you’re angry because you can’t go to Jaz’s party. But the rule is that you can only go to parties where there’s adult supervision’.
- If your child is behaving in physically or verbally harmful ways, let them know this behaviour is unacceptable. For example, ‘It’s not OK to speak to me like that’, or ‘We’ll have to patch and paint that hole in the plaster this weekend. The cost of the materials will come out of your pocket money’.
If you and your child need help managing 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. And if there’s violence in your relationship with your child, you can get support by calling the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732). Family violence is never OK.
When pre-teens and teenagers avoid 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.
Looking after yourself when there’s conflict
If you feel stressed or angry during or after a conflict with your child, you might need to work on managing your own emotions. Muscle relaxation exercises or breathing exercises can help you calm down. It’s also important to be kind to yourself. By role-modelling calmness and kindness to yourself, you’re helping your child learn that it’s OK to make mistakes, forgive yourself and try to do better next time.