by Jane Parent
Teens really know how to push your buttons, don’t they? And they don’t care about fighting fair – they fight to win. Parents can use a disagreement with their teen, however, as a teachable moment on how to fight fair. “Teens can be emotional and unreasonable,” says Dr. Brittany Barber Garcia, PhD, a pediatric psychologist. “Their raging hormones, egocentric world view, and developing brains can put them on a collision course with adults.” But even in the heat of the moment, advises Dr. Barber Garcia, parents can model positive behavior for their teens by showing them how to handle conflict face-to-face and disagree respectfully. They can also provide teens with the emotional feedback they need to learn how to moderate their own behavior.
Tips to Fight Fair
In those heated moments, says Dr. Barber Garcia, remember these 10 tips:
- Keep your cool. As a parent, how you act is even more important than what you say. Instead of throwing fuel on the fire by getting angry, try to stay calm as much as possible. Take a breath. Think before you speak. Don’t let your emotions get the upper hand.
- Zip it. “It’s really important to think about your own reactions in the moment,” says Dr. Barber Garcia. Stick to the facts, provide rationale for your position and avoid name-calling or accusations such as, “You’re so lazy.” “We don’t mean to do it,’ says Dr. Barber Garcia, “but it happens.”
- Listen. Sure, some things aren’t up for negotiation—but your teens want the chance to be heard. So show respect for their opinions.
"Your teens want the chance to be heard. So show respect for their opinions."
Demonstrate that you are listening by reflecting back what they said. For example, say, “I’m hearing you say …” or, “It sounds to me like …”
- Ignore your buttons. Oh yeah. Your kids know exactly how to get you riled up and push your buttons. Remember, you’re the adult. Try to let things slide instead of taking the bait.
- Don’t get personal.“Teens will be very quick to hear something accusatory—’You made this mistake,’ ‘You did this wrong,’” cautions Dr. Barber Garcia. Get in the habit of focusing on your own experience by using “I” statements instead of “you” statements. “I feel hurt when I cook a nice meal and my family won’t eat it.”
- Be real about emotions. Sarcasm is a big “no,” says Dr. Barber Garcia, because it undermines true emotions. Even a nervous laugh or smile can be unintentionally hurtful.
- Meet in the middle. Sometimes you need to compromise so everyone can win. Think in advance about where you’re willing to give up some ground so you and your teen can both feel good about a decision.
- Table the discussion. When emotions are running high and the argument is going nowhere, don’t be afraid to end the conversation temporarily with a promise to come back to it another time—maybe after dinner, or on Saturday morning.
"Don’t be afraid to end the conversation temporarily with a promise to come back to it another time."
Sometimes parents may need a timeout together to talk and make sure they’re on the same page. It’s okay to take a step back if you need time to work things through. This will show your teen it’s preferable to calm down and come back to the conversation with a fresh perspective, but …
- Check in. Don’t let angry feelings fester, and don’t withhold love after an argument. Give teens time to figure out how they feel, and then check in with them to see if they’re ready to reconnect. If they’re still hurt or confused and it seems they’re not yet ready to reconnect, respect that. But after some time has gone by—maybe a day or two—circle back and work with them to repair the relationship.
- Don’t over-apologize. If you really lost control or said things you shouldn’t have, you may need to say you’re sorry, and it’s good to model for your children when it’s appropriate to apologize. But you don’t need to apologize for disagreeing or having a fight.
Dr. Brittany Barber Garcia, PhD, is a pediatric psychologist with Spectrum Health’s Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan.