As adults, we face conflicts everyday. Life is complicated and a fact of life is that nothing goes our way at all times. There will be conflicts. Sometimes, the conflicts are personal, internal conflicts, and sometimes, conflicts involve another person, interpersonal conflicts.
Interpersonal conflicts are those disagreements between ourselves and others. Disagreements naturally occur in human relationships and should be expected in life. It is the resolution of these types of conflicts that demonstrate empathy, anger management and coping skills.
Teaching your child to manage conflicts, knowingly or not, is done every day. They learn from us. What we do to cope with conflict is something we teach to our children. If you want to teach your child the ‘rules of engagement’, then remain mindful of how you manage conflict.
Unwittingly, parents can give dual messages to children. You say one thing, but do another. You tell your child to have empathy, listen to the other person’s point of view, even when they don’t agree with it. But, in your adult life, you yell, curse, throw things, hit people, and show disrespect. That is what you are teaching your child. Yet, when your child goes to school and you find out that he or she has been cursing or fighting, you seem surprised. You say,” That’s not my child.” and “I don’t know where he got that from.”
“I teach my child better than that.” You may blame his or her friends, and call them bad influences. The biggest influence in your child’s life is you, and there’s nothing you can do about that. It’s a fact. What you can do is practice what you preach, and practice with your child. You may notice that these tips mimic principles of restorative justice.
The first thing you want to do when helping your teen manage and resolve conflicts is to get the youth who are in conflict together in the same setting. Agree to work together to find peaceful solutions. Set ground rules, like no name-calling, yelling, blaming and most importantly, no interrupting.
Gather the perspectives. Have each person describe the dispute in their own words, from their perspective. Remind them that there is no interrupting one another. They must listen closely to what the other says they want and why they want it. Encourage them to ask clarifying questions so that they have full understanding of what the other wants.
If a fight broke out because one of them bumped into the other in the hallways at school, then an apology is forthcoming. The feelings expressed by the one who was bumped may indicate that there is a need for feeling respected. That may be the key to resolution.
Find common interests. You want to establish which facts both agree on and determine why different issues are important to each. This can be as simple as a mutual desire to resolve the problem without violence and a shared desire to ‘save face’.
Create options. Take time for each to brainstorm alternative solutions. Create a list of options without judging them immediately. You want them to think each through thoroughly and possibly come up with a win-win solution that everyone is satisfied.
After a number of options have been presented, have each teen discuss his or her feelings about the proposed solutions. They learn to negotiate and compromise in order to reach a mutually acceptable conclusion. Remember to point out that it can sometimes be OK to agree to disagree. The bottom line is that they were each heard.
Create an agreement. They may want to write down their agreement and then you can periodically follow up to see how it is working. These types of exercises are lessons that your teen may take out into the world at large and helps inform future actions and interactions with others.
Your teen may learn that conflicts can’t always be avoided in life, but also that violence does not need to be the go-to means of resolving conflicts or disagreements. In fact, conflicts can be a positive in their lives, because it challenges their coping skills, be introspective and grows empathy. Conflicts can help strengthen relationships if resolved peacefully and can build greater understanding-compassion.
If you resolve your own conflicts in similar fashion, it becomes easier for your teen to do the same. They do take their lead from you. If this means that these are skills you need to work on, then please do so. Many parents do not like to ‘argue’ with their significant other in front of their child. It’s not the disagreeing that you wish to shield your child from; it’s the resolution, coping, anger management and the unhealthy ways you resolve them that it is best your child should not see.
When you resolve your own conflicts positively, it is a good thing that your child witnesses the process and the outcome. You demonstrate that conflicts are to be expected, and show them how to resolve them respectfully. So when or if you are called to school for fighting, you can rest assured that your teen was being assertive, and not aggressively active in conflicts…. at least 9 out of 10 times. Nobody’s perfect.