When moms and dads avoid disputes and disagreements at all cost with their adolescent (i.e., they do anything and everything to keep the peace), they are ignoring some of the greatest teaching moments they will ever have. Disagreement in and of itself is not what produces change for the better – it is how we, as parents, respond to it. Disagreement can be a force for good in families, but only if it is dealt with properly. The way we react can either deepen the relationship with our teens – or it can tear it down.
Most children simply want to know that they are being heard! Refusing to understand this principle and shutting-down any form of disagreement or conflict can build a wall between the two of you. Also, walls can build-up when you belittle your adolescent’s thoughts and feelings. The issue may seem like a small or “black and white” deal to you, but it could be confusing and all-encompassing to them. You can say something like, “I think I understand what you are saying, but let me try to repeat it so I’m sure.” Then, calmly repeat back what their issue and position is.
You can’t expect your adolescent to respect you - or your rules - if you don’t show respect to them. It’s important to acknowledge your adolescent’s viewpoint even if you don’t agree with it. Their view may be short-sighted, self-focused, and just plain irrational – but it is still one that they are going to want to defend to the end. Your response to their “point of view” needs to be respectful rather than reactionary or judgmental. Even so, if their position conflicts with your house-rules – and it’s an important matter of character or morality – you can say something like, “I understand now, but I don’t agree with your viewpoint, so we’re not going to follow that path. But let’s keep talking about it so I can better understand why you feel this way.”
Change comes out of relationship. Failing to listen during disagreements with your teen makes it difficult – if not impossible – for positive change to occur. Work to keep the lines of communication open, and make sure the relationship stays intact. If there is a smaller issue where you can give-in without compromising something very important, do it (just so they know you are listening). You don’t want your son or daughter to feel that you’re constantly turning a deaf ear to their way of thinking. They need to know that their concerns are being heard, and if there is NO hope of that, they will either become deceitful and just stop talking, or try other tactics (e.g., raging, acting-out their anger, ignoring you, etc.).
How to Handle Disputes and Disagreements—
1. All of the positives associated with having a dispute break down when disrespect creeps in from either party. Name calling, screaming, slamming doors, etc., are all acts that your youngster – and you – should avoid. When these things happen, the discussion needs to be put on hold until cooler heads prevail. That way, adolescents know they won’t get their way just by being angry or disrespectful. In fact, they end up shooting themselves in the foot because they lose the chance to make their case (at least until they can calm down). But be sure to come back to it and discuss it later that day. Don’t let disagreements fester too long, or they will eventually explode.
2. Deal with disagreements WHEN they happen – not after resentment has set-in. A problem that you overlook doesn’t just go away; instead, it becomes a building block in a wall that can grow and prevent both you and your youngster from properly responding to future disagreements. Each one that you address and resolve provides training for future “difference of opinion.”
3. Disagreement gives you a chance to get to know your youngster better. Sometimes during a dispute, children are more willing to open-up and express themselves. Be sure you don’t close the door during the conversation (even if it is heated) and allow them to say how they are feeling. They may blurt-out things they don’t really mean, or that could snap at you, so don’t take offense. We’ve all said things we wish we could take back. Adolescents do this more often because they haven’t learned how to manage their emotions. So try to understand the meaning behind the words, and give an element of grace to the actual words that are being said.
4. Having disagreements is great preparation for your adolescent in dealing with future conflict. The skills for dealing with disagreement that your adolescent learns from you will be needed throughout his/her life. The adult world is going to require them to resolve issues and disagreements with others, so you need to be sure you are giving them the tools they will need. And one day, they will have children too, so you can show them the way to the positive resolution of a disagreement.
5. Disagreement may show you a place where you are wrong. It’s a huge relationship builder to admit a mistake and to tell you teens that you are changing your position because of what they said. This will show them you value them as independent people. If you’re wrong, own up to it. If you’re right, don’t cave-in just to keep the peace and avoid an argument.
6. Disagreement presents a wonderful opportunity to reinforce your values and beliefs. All the things you have been teaching your teens before are brought into focus through applying your values to real-life situations. They may not agree with it, but they can at least begin to think about it.
7. Don’t let conflict spill-over and contaminate the rest of the relationship. It’s easy for the disagreement to take over every conversation. Be willing to press the pause button – not to overlook or ignore the problem, but to have time to take a break and re-establish connections over a meal or shared moments that have nothing to do with the dispute in question.
8. The relationship that you have been building with your youngster will bear fruit over time as long as you protect it. The dispute the two of you are having WILL challenge you, but you need to approach it as an “opportunity” rather than as a sign of “disrespect” or “defiance”. Don’t allow it to create a permanent crack in your relationship.
9. The symptoms of disagreement are not the problem …so you can’t resolve the problem by dealing with the symptoms. Keep the lines of communication open and the relationship strong, and you’ll successfully resolve any disputes that arise in the family.
10. Lastly, have plenty of patience as your teenager learns “the fine art of logical debate.”