Many people would define conflict as any fight, battle, or struggle between two or more people. But conflict is actually more than a disagreement; it's an experience or situation that leads one or more parties involved to feel threatened in some way. Perhaps they feel the threat of losing something or someone. Maybe there's a dispute over property, or a simple difference of opinion about the proper course of action in a career, political, or personal arena. Or, maybe your teen believes his or her curfew or a certain punishment is unreasonable.
Wherever you have human beings socializing, working, or conversing together, there is potential for conflict. For adults, it's part of living and working with others. For teens, conflict with peers, parents, and teachers is a big part of growing up, and can cause a lot of drama. But the ability to resolve those conflicts is a skill they will need both now and in the future.
As our kids grow older, we all want them to learn how to resolve their own conflicts independently. While conflict is part of being human, most people -- even struggling teenagers requiring therapeutic boarding schools -- can learn how to resolve those conflicts effectively.
Conflict Resolution Skills for Youth
We usually think of conflict as a bad thing, but they can actually help as identify problems, appreciate the points of view of others, and learn to create solutions to all kinds of different issues. When teens are involved in conflict, it can actually turn out to be a constructive learning experience if they can learn to resolve it. Here are some important conflict resolution skills that youth need to learn if they are to turn those conflicts into growth experiences.
- Face Reality
Conflict is part of being alive, and it's bound to happen to everyone with some frequency. Hiding from a conflict will only delay the inevitable and probably make things worse when the issue is finally dealt with.
- Don't Pretend
A lot of teens (and adults) tend to put on a brave face instead of dealing with a conflict. But keeping feelings bottled up usually leads to a bigger issue when pent-up anger is finally released.
- Identify the Real Problem
Your teen might disagree with a curfew or denial of a certain activity. But most often, their anger over that situation is spurred on by a perceived threat. What do they feel they'll miss out on? What is the deeper reason they want to come home later or go to that party? Understanding the real basis for that conflict is the most efficient way to a meaningful resolution.
- Be Honest and Calm
Honestly expressing your feelings during a conflict should come without anger or pushing blame. The more calmly you can express your point of view, the more likely the other person is to listen.
- Listen and Empathize
When a teen is involved in a conflict, sometimes they can't see beyond their own wants or needs. Part of being an adult is learning to listen respectfully to other points of view, even when you feel you are being slighted. Listening to how others feel can bring much-needed perspective.
Resolving a conflict doesn't mean getting what you want. It usually requires substantial give and take, and a need for compromise. Negotiation is a vital life skill that teens and adults need to be able to use effectively in social, career, and educational environments. It involves a willingness to listen, as well as recognize responsibility for your own actions.
- Don't Dig Up the Past
A temptation for many teens (and adults) faced with conflict is to begin dragging up old mistakes of the other party in order to "score points." But this only deflects the ability to deal with the actual issues at hand, and puts everyone's guard up even stronger. When resolving conflict, it's important to stick with the present.
- Pause Before Reacting
Conflict is stressful. When we're stressed, it can be difficult to keep emotions in check. This is why it's so important to learn to pause and think before reacting -- even if you feel the other person is clearly in the wrong. The way you react can either worsen the conflict or put the other person more at ease. Pausing for a deep breath before you react can make all the difference.
- Lighten the Mood
Sometimes there is nothing like humor for diffusing a situation. If you can break the ice with a lighthearted and well-intentioned joke about the situation, it can help put both of you at ease. Just make sure you're laughing with the other person, not at them.
Body language, facial expressions, gestures, and posture provide important clues to the emotions of someone involved in conflict. Watch for non-verbal clues and think about how you might be communicating non-verbally. Someone who clenches a fist and claims they are fine probably isn't really fine. Calmly try to get them to talk to you so things can be worked out.
- Choose Your Battles
Conflict is emotionally draining and can damage a relationship if things get out of hand. Before facing a perceived conflict, consider whether it's really worthwhile. Taking a break from the situation can help you see things more clearly, and you'll often find you were unduly upset.
- Let it Go
If your conflict involves an argument over opinion, it's okay to let things go. Agreements can't always be reached, especially in matters of simple opinion. Sometimes, you have to agree to disagree.
An unwillingness to forgive makes meaningful conflict resolution impossible. Resist the urge to punish the other person, and decide to forgive. After all, holding onto anger is more of a punishment for you than the other person.
When Conflict Gets Out of Hand
If you have a troubled teenager, you may feel like conflict resolution is the biggest part of your life. If a conflict between you and your teen, or between your teen and their teachers or peers ever escalates to a point where you fear for someone's safety, it may be time to get some outside help. A qualified therapist, or even a therapeutic boarding school, can help you and your teen learn to resolve family, school, or peer conflicts effectively both now and in the future.