I recently watched the Hatfield and McCoys miniseries from the History Channel. The acting was superb and the storyline compelling, but it left me with a feeling of unease. The conflict between the two families started over a supposed stolen pig, but after generations of fighting the two families couldn’t even remember the source of the conflict.
One get’s the feeling that the conflict between the two families escalated beyond control before either family really knew what was happening. Their distrust led to anger, led to slander, led to physical violence, led to death.
Carrying family conflict from one day to the next only compounds the issue until you eventually can’t even remember why you’re angry to begin with. Your situation is probably not on the level of the Hatfield and McCoy’s, but it will continue to tear at the foundation of your relationship with your teen if you don’t address it. If you are tired of the “winner takes all” approach to parenting, here are a few steps to help you let go of conflict in your family and start a cycle of healing.
1. Apologize first. Even if your kid is the one who started the conflict, once you are both raising your voices and rolling your eyes, you are both going to have to apologize. You set the example by seeking forgiveness first.
2. Listen before reacting. The biggest complaint teens have of their parents is that parents don’t listen. Whether it is true or not, it is still their perception. Change that by listening to what they have to say before reacting. Ask open-ended questions that allows them to share their feelings without fear of punishment. Show a genuine respect for what they share.
3. Respond with truth and love. Let facts dictate the conversation; not emotions. In conflict, emotions can be used to manipulate and confuse. If the situation is going to call for punishment, then do it with love and with your teen’s best interest at heart. Don’t punish because you are angry or to get the conversation over.
4. Avoid extreme language. No I’m not talking about four-letter-words. I mean phrases such as, “You never…” or “You always…” You don’t like them and neither does your teen. This is the easiest way for a conflict to escalate. It quickly puts the other person on the defensive and retaliation is almost unavoidable.
5. Understand their personality. Many times conflicts can happen because of something that is out of balance in your teen’s (or your) personality. The time of day, food eaten, sleep pattern, and temperament can all effect how your teen responds in conflict. Try to take an honest assessment, before jumping in to resolving the conflict. None of these factors mean your teen (or you) is not responsible for their actions, but it doesn’t bring understanding of how it could have happened.
6. Pray before talking. I can’t tell you how many family conflicts we’ve had quickly resolved because we prayed before diving into the situation. Prayer helps quiet your heart and mind and enter the conversation with calmness and compassion. It also helps you see less of yourself and more of your teen’s perspective.
For some of us resolving conflict in a healthy way is difficult because of our own baggage growing up. Perhaps you were raised in a home that had a “take no prisoners” mentality when it came to conflict. Win at all costs was the name of the game. You learned early on that your job was to watch your own back, defend yourself, and never back down. But if you are willing to develop new habits and value loving more than being declared right, then your whole family wins.
Brian Housman has worked with families for more than twenty years. He is the author of “Engaging Your Teen’s World” and “Tech Savvy Parenting” and a regular contributor to parenting magazines. You can follow him on Twitter or his blog at www.awaketolife.org.