How to deal with conflict

21:32, Jun 09 2014

I attended a social gathering recently when, to the discomfort of all, the host father and son had a loud and ongoing disagreement.

As someone once said, "The face of a child can say it all, especially the mouth part" and this young man was certainly saying it. Unfortunately, in situations like this, the teenager has little to lose and the adult a lot.

There's a fine line between under and over-reacting. Blaming, placating, being authoritarian, threatening, being funny, giving advice, being reasonable all tend not to work well with teenagers, which doesn't leave much else.

Blaming often involves lots of questioning and imposing a solution without necessarily getting to the bottom of a problem.

Placating with a, "Oh, have it your own way then" avoids dealing with the issue. The authoritarian approach aims to gain a submission and often involves lecturing, hectoring, frequent punishment and ridicule.

With threatening, the threat and whether it's fair or not often becomes a red herring that sidelines the issue. Being humorous takes the focus off uncomfortable topics and buries them and sarcasm can hurt deeply.


Advice-giving tends to include words like "don't", "should", "never" and "always" and often includes what "I" would have done.

Being reasonable often means you don't say what you need to say and you can end up assuming too much responsibility for solving the teenager's problem.

The best way of dealing with a situation is for you to pick the moment - one when you're feeling relatively calm and your teenager isn't spoiling for a fight.

● Try to keep a relaxed manner and tone of voice.

● Be clear about your own feelings on the matter but don't make "poor me" statements.

● Be clear about what the issue is in your own mind.

● Then try to keep focused on that issue and don't bring up any past ones, as they can become red herrings, too.

● Listen carefully to what's being said so that you're clear on the facts and don't find you've got the wrong end of the stick.

● Acknowledge that you hear what your teen is saying. You may have to counter with something like, "I understand what you are saying but we can't allow that (or agree to that) because ..."

● Be prepared for a little giving and negotiation to ease the path to a resolution.

If you're not making progress you might have to use the more authoritarian straight talk technique of five statements more commonly used with younger children:

● here's the situation as I see it;

● here's how I feel about it;

● here's why I feel this way;

● since we don't seem to be making any progress in discussing this, here's my expectation;

● and here's the consequence.

© Ian Munro 2014. All rights reserved.

The Timaru Herald