Communication in Conflict

Conflict is not something you have with your teenager. It is something you do with your teenager. It is an act of performance. Every time you agree to cooperate in conflict with your teenager, you provide one more training experience in how to conduct conflict that your teenager will carry into future relationships. How your teenager learns to handle conflict with you now is how he or she will likely handle conflict in significant relationships later in life.

In any conflict between you, the issue that you are differing over is actually the second priority. Because frustration with opposition can lead to anger that can cause family members to speak or act in ways they later regret, the first priority in family conflict is always managing emotional intensity.

When in conflict with your teenager, you each need to take responsibility for monitoring your respective emotional states so your actions and words do not become destructive. If either of you finds yourself heating up, then declare a timeout, take a break, separate, cool down, then reengage in a more emotionally sober and rational way.

FACT

In family conflict, the number one priority is keeping the process of communication safe for all involved. Letting the argument get heated can result in destructive words or actions that damage relationships.

Here is a riddle to keep in mind: “What do humans and most other animals have in common when in conflict?” The answer is, “They all fight with their mouths.” For people, this means minding their use of words because words can “bite.” That old maxim, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me,” is simply untrue.

In family conflict, words do most of the damage. Thoughtless, impulsive, or angry words can inflict wounds that are slow to heal because they are difficult to forget. Your primary job in conflict with your teenager is to model and monitor the use of language, keeping it constructive and respectful, teaching your adolescent to do the same.

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