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How to Make the Most of Fighting with Your Teen

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How to Make the Most of Fighting with Your Teen

You may be blinking and wondering how it happened that suddenly your happy home has become a verbal battle ground. Gone are the days of quiet acquiescence. It seems they’ve been replaced with debates, arguments and angry words.

You ask yourself, “Did I sign up for this?” You really don’t want to get into it—yet again. So you take every possible opportunity to turn your back and ignore her messy room. Or you pretend you don’t notice that he came home an hour past his curfew.

But it’s actually a benefit to your teens when you confront the issues with them— if you do it calmly and respectfully. It can strengthen your relationship with your kids and create a closer, more trusting bond. Why? Because they learn that you’re fair, you’re not capricious or frivolous and you do, indeed, have their best interests at heart.

Conflict is a part of life, and kids need to learn the skills to think through situations, stand up for what they want and handle their emotions. Learning how to fight fairly gives them confidence that they can take care of themselves when they leave home and you’re not around to help them out.

Here are some questions I’ve been asked about fighting with your teen:

1. Which fights are worth having and which ones should you walk away from?

Have only the ones where the outcome really matters to the future of your teen. Diffuse the rest and let them go. Remember that your discipline is all about what’s best for your child in the long run. So walk away from the issues that are more about what you would like rather than what is best for him.

2. How do you make your case without wounding each other?

No matter how upset you are, treat your teen with respect and be sensitive to her feelings. People don’t always remember the things that were said in an argument, but they do remember how they felt. You can be firm without jabbing your teen’s soul, without ridiculing or putting her down and without judging or criticizing.

3. How do you diffuse a time-bomb fight?

Sit down with your teen and talk before the time-bomb explodes. Most likely, you’re getting some signals of the impending bomb, so talk with her about them. Her feelings are the most important thing, so tell her that you care and that you want to hear them. Try to see the situation from her perspective—from inside her skin. And try to find a win-win solution.

4. How do you control a fight and end it?

Simply call a halt. Explain that you’ve both shared your thoughts and feelings, and that there’s no new or helpful information coming out. Let your teen know that you’ve really heard his ideas and that you appreciate hearing how he feels. Tell him you both need some time to think and let things settle. If the two of you need to come back to it, you will set aside time to talk again.

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Joanne Stern

Joanne Stern, PhD, is a psychotherapist with a private practice emphasizing counseling with families, parents, couples and teens. She’s a teacher, consultant, speaker, and expert guest on parenting and family topics, including communication, discipline, self-esteem, addictions, eating disorders, grief, and loss. Parenting Is a Contact Sport: 8 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Kids for Life is her first book. A mother and grandmother, she and her husband, Terry Hale, live in Aspen, Colorado.

11 comments

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5:24AM PST on Feb 5, 2012

Thanks for the article.

5:46PM PDT on Sep 22, 2011

just beautiful... really good advice! thanks for sharing!!

9:41AM PDT on Sep 20, 2011

Thank you

6:08PM PDT on Sep 3, 2011

my mom and i don't fight. we argue and debate, but it never blows up. if i get mad at her, she tries to hug me and tells me she loves me, and then i drop the subject and go cool off. if she starts getting mad at me, i just shut my mouth and think of something to make her laugh. it always works.

11:40PM PDT on Jul 17, 2011

Thanks for sharing the tips

7:07AM PDT on Jul 14, 2011

Thanks for the tips. I'll try to remember them when discussing with my teenager.

2:23PM PDT on Jul 13, 2011

noted thanks

9:14AM PDT on Jul 13, 2011

It's like young wolves growing in a pack, they'll challenge for position among their parents and elders as well as with each other. With humans, though, it's much more complex.

Turning the disagreement into a learning experience could help. Teaching nonviolent conflict resolution is a high priority, but when the big fight comes, a paint-ball game might just keep the teen out of some rumble. Aggressive situations in a group of teens might fade if the parents of them all co-ordinate attendance at favourite sports, teaching them that athletics is a sanctioned way of competing. Sexual situations may call for a more effective means of 'sex education' than the stupid 'abstinence' recital at school; the father might teach his kids about contraceptives, or a visit to the nearby animal farm can provide natural settings to observe sex.

8:46AM PDT on Jul 13, 2011

thanks for the info

2:53AM PDT on Jul 13, 2011

interesting article

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