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.
5. How do you make up after a big blowout?
Admit your part in the blowout. Be vulnerable and willing to apologize. It will make you seem stronger, not weaker, in your teen’s eyes and he will respect you for your apology and your willingness to accept your part of the responsibility. And it will model for him that he can do the same.
6. Why is fighting a good, healthy thing to do with your teen, if it’s done correctly?
Fighting is not the best way to solve a problem, but vigorous debate is healthy in any relationship—if there is an even playing field that allows each person to express him or herself honestly and openly. After a healthy discussion, both you and your teen will know each other better—what each of you thinks, feels and believes. You can actually feel closer if you’ve treated each other respectfully.
7. How can you get your kid to fight fair?
Give him the rules. You can both be intense, but you can’t yell. Neither of you can be rude, call each other names, use four-letter words or hit below the belt. Since you’re expressing feelings, each of you should use, I, I, I ( I feel, I need, I want) rather than You, You, You (You always, You never, You won’t). And if things get really hot, tell him you’re going to leave the room and come back after things have cooled down so you can continue the discussion more calmly.
8. Is role modeling enough?
Kids learn the most from watching you, your behaviors and how you interact with your spouse and others. Your words pale in comparison to your actions, and your kids are always watching. But they also need teaching, so don’t be afraid to use words to help them learn to express feelings, share thoughts and explain ideas. Make sure your own behaviors match what you’re teaching or you’ll come off as a hypocrite.
9. What if you and your teen don’t fight? Is that a bad thing?
Not at all. The important thing is not the fight. It’s the open sharing of ideas and feelings. If you’ve developed a good relationship with her, then she’ll know she can come to you with anything that’s on her mind. Be available and approachable. Stick close and stay connected and be the person she wants to talk to—and listen to—even during the tough times.