Learning About Helping Your Young Teen Deal With Conflict

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How can you start the conversation?

The middle school years can be challenging for kids—and for parents too. Kids are coping with changing bodies and relationships. They're questioning who they are and how they fit in. Kids this age can be best friends one day and enemies the next. They may face conflicts at school or outside of school. And disagreements, fights, and bullying can spread far and wide on social media, which can be just as wounding and tough as in-person conflict to deal with.

Teens may not always open up to you about conflicts with peers. But when they do, here are some tips for having a good chat.

  • Help your child recognize their feelings.

    Conflict is a natural part of life. It's okay to be angry or feel hurt. Let children know that their feelings are real and that you are there for support.

  • Work on staying calm.

    Help teens see that it's hard to solve a problem when they're upset. You can demonstrate some strategies for them to calm down before addressing a problem. For example, breathing exercises might help your child calm down in the moment, and stay calm after. You can show your child the 4-7-8 method: breathe in for 4 seconds, hold breath for 7, exhale for 8.

  • Practice speaking up.

    Conflicts are hard to resolve without conversation. Help children prepare to talk about conflict with their peers. Encourage them to plan what they might like to say and how they want to say it. Writing a practice letter or bullet points can help your child decide what's most important to talk about. Role playing can help your child to be ready for possible responses.

  • Be fair, and model fairness.

    Understanding the other side can help with resolving the issue. Ask children to try to imagine the other person's experience, even if they don't agree with their peer's perspective.

  • Prepare your teen before a real conflict arises.
    • Tell your child a story about how you handled conflict as a kid. What strategies worked to calm or resolve conflict? What didn't work? What do you wish you'd done then?
    • Ask your child to talk about past conflicts that your child thinks they handled well. What are some that haven't worked out?
    • Talk with your child about what they have seen that works to calm or solve conflict. What do other kids do that works? What things don't work? When is it okay to walk away from a fight?
  • Talk to your child about conflict before, during, and after it occurs.

    These kinds of adult conversations help keep communication channels open and increase trust. Your child will probably appreciate it, even if your child doesn't always admit it.

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