I have tons of theories about parenting and how to deal with conflict. But mostly, I end up winging it – but super smart winging it based on tons of information I have on who Jordan is, what he wants, how he thrives, etc. Once I understood what he needed to feel connected in the midst of conflict, and what made him angry or walk away, I stayed in that golden zone where we were most likely to see the light at the end of the (very short) tunnel.
Most of us don’t have the time to sit and figure out every single kid’s sweet spot of how to deal with conflict while maintaining connection. So, I’m offering 15 ways I totally avoid (unproductive) conversations with my teen, hoping one of these might work for you.
15 Ways I Avoid Conflict With My Teen Son
1- I don’t. the more I dance around it, the worse it gets. He’s used to the question, “Are we good?” because when I ask, I’m open to hearing from him. And if I pre-empt drama, then we can work things out within minutes. Often, “we’re good.”
2- I listen for where he has a point. Somewhere he’s right. I figure the sooner I can find where he’s telling a truth I might not be aware of, the more I can modify what I think.
3- I understand he’s telling me his side/ perspective/ opinion. There’s nothing for me to defend. This is really about him and his side. It’s important to hear.
4- I ask what he wants – really. Because if I can understand what he’s really asking for, the more I can try to let him have it. Does this sound crazy? I’m not intending to have power over him for no reason. I truly want to know what he wants. It’s empowering, and it teaches him to ask wisely.
5 – I look for a middle ground. Somewhere what he’s saying is okay with me. Everything he says is not completely sideways. Something is often exactly what I want also. I’m looking for it.
6- I clarify. I repeat or restate what I hear because I want him to hear his point before we go forward. Seriously, I might have been thinking about dinner. Or a blog post.
7 – I try to give him something. He can and should get part of his way. He is loved and considered, and giving him something that matters expresses this. I want him to own his life, ask for what he wants, have a perspective, believe in his point and communicate with respect (as much as possible). Besides, when he has his own business one day, I want him to understand that finding a common ground makes for excellent repeat customers.
8- I listen more than I talk. Because often, the conflict he starts with, is not really the topic he finishes with. It’s ok. I do that too.
9- When he’s finished, and feels heard, I make my point known. There’s a fine line of being “right” and “heard”. Often, if he’s heard and validated, we can work out something that’s right for the situation that values both sides. This means more than being “right”. If he knows his information is conveyed, he’s safe to hear my side. And I have a side too. (Perk: he often asks me if he understands my point. Wonder where he got that from? 😉 )
10- I ask him to tell me what he hears I want. What does he hear me say? Sometimes this one point will eliminate another 30 minutes of repetition.
11- I ask where he’d like to meet in the middle. For example, I want him to do well in school but I absolutely do not want to hound him for his homework every night. Guess what? He doesn’t want me to hound him. But when it’s not done or grade slip – where’s the middle? We come up together with one that works – remembering that we both don’t want me to ask for minute by minute updates. (Our solution for all of high school: He just tells me honestly what he did. So far, so good- 3 years in. Oh. He came up with that.)
12- I do not go down rabbit trails. If we’re talking about the current curfew-bedtime-come home from school times, I’m absolutely not going to discuss other friends’ times, what we did last year, or WHY won’t I give him absolute freedom this year? We stay on the current topic of what time he’ll be home/ go to bed.
13- I decide where my really big point is and let everything else go. Do I care how much of his allowance he spends? Not really. What I do care about is that when the allotted gas money runs out and I’m not giving any more that he changes his actions next time. Or does more yard work, or makes a video for someone to earn more. By the way, he hates not having money and so far, has changed his actions very quickly because he doesn’t particularly like scrambling – or me taking him to school because there’s no more gas (never happened so far). He likes to know what he has to work with and that when he earns more, it’s gravy. I love this kid.
14- I take a break when I need to. Seriously. There’s only so much I can take sometimes. Sometimes if I’m not able to be 100% for longer than 30 minutes, I politely say “I need to take a break for now” and then return in 15 minutes. Or 30, depending on the day.
15 – I apologize as needed. No doubt I’ve “made him feel” xyz. I don’t want that. I want connection. If he feels it, I was a part of it and I can own my role. He’s always more important than my ego.
It’s NOT that we don’t “get into it”. But that we quickly get through because of these practices above. He’s one of my favorite people on the planet and having a home where we both know we can be heard, walk through conflict, and come out on the other side in peace is way worth any ego, authority staking, or agenda I may have.
(Unforeseen side perk of having great conflict skills with him: he navigates through conflict with his friends, offering them much the same considerations I offer him. This allows him the ability to keep friends with a limit on the drama, ego, or anger.)
Author of Momifesto: A Manifesto of 9 Practices for Phenomenal Moms