Supporting Your Child Through Times of Conflict
The tween and teen years include times of high conflict. Children are still learning to manage their emotions and behaviors. Their brains are still growing, and they often act impulsively, often without consideration of others’ feelings and the consequences. This is all part of normal development. How you respond to this has an impact on the parent-child relationship. The following suggestions are being made to help you maintain a positive relationship and connection with your child, particularly during the most difficult and trying times.
Be Mindful of Your Attitude and Tone
When you use a calm tone with a non-judgmental tone, you are less likely to be perceived as a threat. Let’s say your daughter is asking you to go to a party at a new friend’s house, and she is asking to stay out later than usual. If you ask, “Who is this girl, anyway? I’ve never even heard you talk about her before. Why do you want to stay out so late?” you will likely be met with resistance. Your daughter will likely perceive you as a threat to her wishes, and that you do not trust her. Instead try, “I’m happy you have a new friend. Tell me about her and what you like about her. What do you think is a reasonable time to come home that we can both agree on?”
Set the Example
Emotions feed off of emotions, and emotions are running high during the tween/teen years. This is completely normal! The trick is to stay calm. Guaranteed, if you react, your child will only meet that level, and then some! This is your opportunity to teach her to remain calm when trying to get her point across. Eventually, she will recognize the discrepancy between your calmness and her lack of calmness, and she will slowly begin to match your level.
Nip Disrespectful Behavior in the Bud
Nothing can be more damaging to a relationship than disrespectful behavior. Ever hear the saying, “We teach people how to treat us?” Well, it is true, and there will be times when you need to teach your daughter that disrespect will not be tolerated. Everyone has his or her own perception and definition of what constitutes disrespectful behavior. If it feels disrespectful to you, do not let it go. Stop the conversation, point out the behavior and how it made you feel, and firmly tell your daughter that disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated. This is so important, because once you allow it, it will happen again, and over time, it can intensify.
In order to receive respect, we must show it. Yes, our children deserve our respect too. We cannot expect them to show us respect when they do not know what respectful behavior looks like, especially during times of conflict. So respect her feelings, ideas, and when appropriate, her privacy and personal space.
Pay attention to when you have let your emotions get the best of you, and you have behaved in a way that leaves you feeling badly. Apologizing to your daughter when you have “lost your cool” teaches her that her feelings matter to you, and teaches her to have the courage to apologize. Your apologies will also provide her with a model for words and behavior when she needs to apologize.
Sometimes your daughter’s emotions may be running so high, that the best thing to do in the moment is to let her take a break from the conversation. You may feel calm and able to communicate clearly, but she may not be able to do so. Trying to communicate with someone under those circumstances may do more damage than good. Give your daughter some cooling off time, while communicating to her that she is not off the hook. Make a plan to talk later. You can also be proactive and be mindful of the times when your daughter may be too exhausted to discuss a meaningful issue, and avoid bringing up difficult topics during those times
Sometimes the tween/teen behaviors and emotions can feel so out of control to your daughter that she says things she regrets, and behaves in ways that cause her to experience guilt and shame. When you may be feeling the most frustrated with her behavior is when she needs to feel your love the most. Her own behavior may be causing her to dislike herself and feel unlovable, and she needs you to show her that she is loved.
There will be times of high conflict where there simply is no immediate resolution. Emotions will need time to calm down, or maybe some research into the problem needs to be done, or your daughter may not even want a solution but rather to be hears. This is especially true in this day and age when there are so many digital distractions. So delay making dinner, put down the phone, stop folding laundry. Look your daughter in her beautiful eyes and really listen to her. When you listen attentively to the small stuff, she will be more likely to come to you with the big stuff.
Physical touch is so important for connecting with others. Physical closeness can help daughters manage emotional stress (1). Also, when conflict levels become high, physical touch, through a hug, the stroke of an arm, can help repair emotional damage and increase feelings of connection. See my website for creative and silly ways of giving and receiving hugs. http://drpeggydelong.com/the-hug-jar/
The way we speak to our children becomes the way that they see themselves. Out of everyone in the world, the one person whose approval means the most to her, even if she does not show it, is her mother. Avoid commenting on her hair, clothes or make-up, her choice of music, her body, her weight. The world can sometimes be a cruel place with others making comments about your daughter’s appearance and interests. If she has a problem that she is working on, such as her weight or biting her finger nails, avoid pointing it out, and instead let her come to you for support and guidance.
Get Enough Sleep
We all have decreased impulse control and less ability to manage emotions when we do not get enough sleep, and teenagers need more sleep than adults. Sufficient sleep will help her to problem solve, see another person’s point of view, and be better able to manage her thoughts, feelings, and words during times of conflict.
- Sharing the Burden: The Interpersonal Regulation of Emotional Arousal in Mother-Daughter Dyads. Emotion.