Teaching Teens to Resolve Conflict

Imagine that your teen comes home and tells you someone she believes to be her friend is saying untrue things about her. Inevitably, this news brings out the “Mama Bear” in you, and your first inclination is to call the girl’s mother. But better judgement prevails. Your next thought might be to give your daughter’s “friend” a piece of your mind, but once again, better judgement prevails. You know that either course of action will only make matters worse for your daughter. So, what do you do? How do you help her resolve this issue in a healthy way?

One of the most useful life skills we can teach our kids is how to resolve conflict in their lives, rather than trying to resolve it for them.

To get started, help them dissect the situation. What happened? Who are the parties involved? Did your child actually hear the person say these things, or did a third party hear it? If the information is coming from a third party, are they trustworthy? Make sure all of the information concerning the incident is on the table.

Next, you can help them identify their feelings. In the midst of conflict, people typically express anger, but they rarely take the time to identify what is driving the anger, which is often a secondary emotion. Encouraging your teen to identify the feelings behind their anger will help them uncover the primary emotion associated with the incident and then move forward. Most children can talk about feeling sad, happy, afraid, and hurt. You can add to their emotional vocabulary by giving them new words such as: isolated, rejected, defeated, helpless, jealous, or frustrated. This approach can help them identify their feelings more specifically.

Encouraging your teen to identify the feelings behind their anger will help them uncover the primary emotion associated with the incident and then move forward."

Once they have identified their feelings, brainstorm potential ways to address the conflict. Some options include: confronting the person directly about what they said or did; asking someone to go with them to be an objective third person and assist with a neutral conversation; asking you to talk with the person’s parents; alerting the guidance counselor or a teacher to the incident; writing the person a letter; or maybe even deciding it’s not worth it to address the behavior at all.

After they feel they have listed all the possibilities for handling the situation, ask them which one makes the most sense. They might decide the best thing to do is speak to the person directly first, and if that doesn’t go well, they might want to involve an objective third party. Discuss what they would consider to be the best possible outcome. Then help them map out a strategy to achieve that outcome.

Additionally, you can help them fine-tune their encounter. Role playing is a great way to walk through the conversation and practice staying on topic. For instance, you can address what words are beneficial to use and which ones are best left unsaid, how to communicate in a way you are likely to be heard, and how to respond if the person is disrespectful.

After you have done all these things together, it’s time to step aside and watch them work through their plan. When you step aside, you are telling them that you believe they have what it takes to deal with the situation. This is a confidence-building opportunity. Teaching life skills like conflict management and resolution while they are teenagers will ultimately serve them well as they move into adulthood.

Picture of Julie Baumgardner

Julie Baumgardner

President and CEO, First Things First

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