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Handling Conflict with Your Teen, or Anyone for that Matter!

By Preety Kaur, MA AMFT, Supervised by Marte J Matthews, LMFT

Have you ever said something to your child, only to regret saying it later? You are not alone.

When we are in the midst of conflict, maybe because our teen hasn’t thrown out the trash like they said they would, or their room is STILL messy after countless reminders to clean up, we don’t realize that our first reactions to the conflict can have a huge impact on how, and if, that conflict is resolved.

We actually have a lot of power in these moments, more than we may realize, to control how the conversation goes and even get a positive outcome! The resolution of the conflict starts with our mental state. For example, if we are already angry or anxious when starting a conversation, the part of our brain that controls careful thinking can turn off. When this happens, our reactions become purely emotional. We can no longer problem solve, empathize, see the other person’s point of view, or even get our point of view across in a way that our child can hear it. This happens to everyone. But we have a lot of power in these moment!

We can regain our power by checking in with our bodies to see if we are ready to have a civil conversation. Checking in with our bodies lets us know what mental state we are in. We can check in and see, for example, if we are too angry to have a calm conversation: How is my breath? Is it fast, is it shallow? Is my heart beating really fast? Is my jaw clenched? Are my hands in a fist? If this is the case, we can pause and ask ourselves, what do I need to calm down before we start having the conversation?

Do I need to take a walk? Do I need to take a few deep breaths? Do I need to slow things down by drinking a full glass of water? If we need to simply step away from the conversation, we can say to our children, “At this moment, I’m too angry to talk. I do want to talk with you, but I can’t do it right now because I don’t want to say anything I’ll regret. Can we talk in 20 minutes after I go for a walk?” This not only saves us from saying things we don’t mean to say, but it also models for our children how to better handle conflict. Once we feel less reactive, we can then approach that conversation in a calm state that gives us a much better chance at resolving the conflict.

Need help managing conflict in your home? Contact us to meet with one of our child therapists for more support. Resolving conflict can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be. Let us help you make it easier.

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