I'm the mother of a teenager who is interested in effective communication and discipline techniques.
The Best Way to Deal With Conflict
It is essential to deal with conflict, especially if the issue is important and it is causing problems in your home. Remember, though, it is important to choose your battles. Otherwise, you will feel like you are in a battleground 24/7. Sometimes, if it is a minor issue, you should just let it go. If your child leaves their towel on the bathroom floor just once that month, it is really not necessary to make an issue out of it. But if they are consistently not hanging up their towel, even after you have repeatedly asked them and you are feeling unhappy about it, it is important to work it out.
The most effective way to deal with a conflict is through negotiation and discussion. Getting angry or aggressive will only make the situation a whole lot worse. Conflict is best resolved if you use a positive and respectful approach. I know this can be extremely difficult when emotions are running high, which is why conflict resolution should only take place when everyone involved has calmed down. If needed, spend some time apart, in separate rooms, until emotions have subsided and you are able to deal with the situation in a calmer way. I know that this can be tough, if your learnt conflict management has been to scream and shout, but it is all about self-control and reprogramming your learnt behaviours. It is vital to remember that screaming and shouting is in no way a more effective method to get your message of disappointment across to your teen.
What to do
The tips below will guide you to better conflict management. The more you practice these techniques the easier it becomes (if by any chance you freak out and let loose at your teen, it does not mean all is lost. Take some time, calm down and go back to the drawing board by apologizing (bitter pill to swallow I know, but very important), and then apply the techniques below).
Dealing With Conflict
One of the most effective ways to deal with conflict is SLAP:
This approach is about working together as partners, in order to solve a problem, and not as opponents trying to win a war. It helps you and your teen to work together on a foundation of mutual respect in order to find a shared solution.
The Rules for All During SLAP
- Stay calm throughout the process.
- No name calling or laying the blame.
- No interrupting. Each person must be given a time to talk and to air their views. When one person is talking the others may not interrupt. What can work well here is to use an object, like a ball or stick and who ever is holding it, is the only person that may talk.
- Be respectful.
- Be understanding.
- Be assertive (when you’re being assertive, you state your view in a calm and non-blaming manner).
- If you and your partner are going to be involved in the conflict resolution together, it is important to discuss exactly what is going to be said and what the consequences are going to be beforehand. You have to approach your teen as a united front.
- State exactly what the issue is.
- Tell your teen what has upset you, and give your child a turn to air their views as well. Try not to use blaming language here and teach your child that accusations, and blame are not an effective part of resolving the conflict.
- When stating the issue, open with sentences like, “It upsets me when you lie to me,” or “It concerns me when you don’t tell me where you are because I fear for your safety.” I know this can sound quite wishy-washy, but remember you are keeping things neutral, and open for now. Opening like this does not mean that your child does not have to face the consequences of their actions (this comes in later).
- By stating the issue and laying it out, it allows for the matter at hand to be dealt with in a positive manner, it allows the air to be cleared between everyone.
You do this by:
- Look at the person while he/she is talking.
- Show respect by allowing the person to talk without interrupting.
- Stay and look calm.
- Talk in a quiet voice.
Make sure you have understood what is being said by repeating or saying it in your own words, for example, “So you believe that I am being too overprotective because...”
Do not let your ego get in the way. If your child has said something that stings, analyse it first, and don’t tell them they are speaking rubbish. Remember, whatever your child tells you, it is what they are feeling and it needs to be dealt with.
By now you should each have a good picture, as to what the issue is.
- Next, agree on the path forward. Discuss how your teen can handle the situation better the next time and explain to them what you expect of them.
- Listen to what your child has to say and see if you are prepared to agree on any changes in the house rules. For example, if your child is unhappy because their curfew is an hour earlier than all their friends, then you might want to compromise a little and extend their curfew for half an hour or so.
- Agree to the consequences. Even if you have agreed to extend their curfew, they must still face the consequences if they broke the rule, and came home after their curfew. If the consequence is to be grounded for a month, then their new curfew time will kick in after that. This will show your child that you are serious about your rules, but at the same time you are willing to listen to and meet their needs.
- Emphasize to your teen that you are expecting them to practice the new strategies that were discussed during the conflict resolution.
- Make sure your child understands exactly what the new rules are if anything changed, and make sure they understand why they are being punished, if it has come to that.
Conflict resolution sounds like it could be a long; drawn out process, but in reality it shouldn’t take longer than 10 - 15 minutes. It also does not have to be a stiff, formal affair. Actually the more relaxed you all are, the better the result you will have.
When Things Do Not Work out as Planned
There are times when you have done everything right: you calmed down, spoke calmly to your child and politely invited him/her to talk about the conflict. Just as you think you should receive your Parenting Medal of Honour, your teen turns around and becomes completely uncooperative. It is going to happen, especially when introducing it for the first time.
It was not too long ago, that my daughter and I were at loggerheads about her schoolwork. I wanted her to study (of course), and she had blatantly told me that she had decided that she was not going to study for her exams. Now if you knew my child, this would floor you as much as it did me. She is a straight 'A' student, she is polite, sweet, and the furthest thing from a rebel that you can imagine, but nevertheless, this is what she had decided.
I wanted to rip her head off, but instead, I did all the right things: I removed myself from the situation, went to another room to calm down, counted to 10, then counted to 10 again and again and again. When I was ready, I approached her calmly, and said, “Okay, love. Let’s talk about this. Why do you feel that you don’t want to study? Is the work too difficult? Would you like me to organise extra lessons? How can I help you?”
I stepped back, filled with pride that I handled this so well. At this point my beautiful, intelligent, sweet daughter stood up, looked me in the eye and said, “I don’t want to talk about this.” And sauntered off to her room, without even a backward glance.
When the shock of what had just happened sunk in, I marched to her room – only to find that she had locked the door. She had never done anything like this before. It took me a while to figure out what to do. I know my daughter well enough to know that if I started shouting or using threats, she would shut down and I would get nothing out of her. So I sat outside her door and gently murmured, “Sweetie, I’m not sure what is going on, but I’m here to help you. Let me in so we can talk, and so that I know what it is that I can do to help you.” As my caring words filtered through the door, into her room, she rewarded me by turning up the music in her room, so that she couldn’t hear me.
I was livid. I thought of all the good advice I had heard – take her bedroom door key away, remove her door, ground her, punish her – how dare she behave so rebelliously, when all I did was show her understanding, and kindness.
However, when I had clamed down, I began to realise that I had pushed her to talk to me, when I was ready to talk, and I had not taken into account that maybe she wasn’t ready to talk to me. So I left it alone for a while. I did not mention homework, studying, exams, schoolwork or anything academically related.
I waited. Saturday came: archery day. My daughter loves her archery; she lives for Saturdays just so that she can go to archery. When it was time to leave for archery she came to me and said, “Mom, it’s getting late, are you ready to leave?”
Upon which I replied, “I don’t know love. Are you ready to study or talk to me about this problem?”
“No.” she said, giving me that challenging stare of just try me.
So I threw in, “Well then I’m not ready to drive you to archery and I won’t be until you are ready to start studying or telling me why you don’t want to.” and I left it at that.
She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Whatever.” and of course missed archery that Saturday.
But by Sunday, she had opened her books and casually threw into conversation, “Do you know when I studied business, this morning…”
We discussed the problem and sorted things out. The point I’m trying to get across is that sometimes conflict management will not always pan out as you planned, for various reasons. Because of this you have to flexible. Either try another tactic or simply wait for when your child is ready to sort things out. Learn from my lesson – there are two or more people involved in conflict management, and all parties need to be ready to be engaged in the process. Another point is that sometimes it is better to be patient and wait for the right moment to exact your discipline. Pushing, shouting, and forcing your teen into something they are not ready to face can just exasperate the situation.
You, as the adult, need to ensure that you control the conflict management. By losing your temper you will lose control of the situation.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Tamara14 on October 26, 2014:
I agree with your points and suggestions. It's so hard to put them in action sometimes, though :)