Most of us want to avoid conflict with our kids, but did you know that conflict in a family can offer you an opportunity to pull together like never before? If reckoned with properly, conflict is a force for change that has the power to brings relationships together rather than tear them apart.
Another positive aspect of conflict is that it helps a child learn how to stand up for himself. How else will he learn how to say "No" when he needs to, or "That's just not right," or, "I don't agree with that."
So, how can you effectively manage conflict with your teen in a way that maintains a solid relationship while at the same time honoring the household rules?
First, it involves agreeing with them in some way, while holding your ground in regard to enforcing the rule. Let me share with you one of my favorite words when it comes to managing conflict; the word is, "nevertheless."
Sweetheart, I'm aware your friends think this is a great movie, and they may be right, nevertheless...our rule for that is that we don't go to R-rated movies.
Darlin', you may have merit for being upset and I'd probably be upset too, nevertheless...our rule is that everyone in our family is required to be respectful of one another, even when we're angry.
Son, I'm sorry you don't like the new curfew rule. I didn't either when I was a teen, nevertheless...our rule is that curfew is midnight.
Handling conflict in a more intentional way sends your child the message — "Honey, I love you and I understand why you feel the way you do, but we're still going to live according to our household rules. If you choose to disregard the rules, consequences will follow."
You see, I believe conflict doesn't have to separate us. The word, "nevertheless" acknowledges your teen's angst or viewpoint, while at the same time reaffirming — these are our rules, and if you choose not to follow them, these are the consequences.
Rather than leaving your child to wonder about the consequences, determine and communicate them in advance. How else can the teen properly choose? They can't. They need to be able to say to their peers, "If I do that, I'll lose my car for a month," or, "If I'm late now, my curfew will be even earlier for a month."
But you'd be surprised at the number of ways parents avoid enforcing consequences. Make it a rule for yourself, if nothing else — the consequences I've communicated to my teen will be enforced, one way or another. Get some outside help with structuring the consequences if you need it. And, always present, a united front with your spouse.
Some parents haven't taken the time to set up and communicate household rules and consequences, or they just assume that their child knows where the line is that they shouldn't cross. For them, I've developed a handbook and complete home kit for setting up a system for discipline. You can see it online at www.heartlightresources.com.
Beyond the normal rules and boundaries for curfew and chores and such, there should also be some rules you may not have thought about. For instance:
1. We MUST Spend Regular Time Together
Your relationship with your teen needs time to develop in a way that moves beyond entertaining them or simply providing for them. Require a one-on-one weekly breakfast or dinner to spend some time developing your relationship. Make it a rule — we will go out and eat together once a week. "If you don't show up, you owe me $25. If I don't show up, I owe you $100."
2. Everyone Listens
Some of the best advice I give Moms is encompassed in a simple mandate: Keep Quiet! Instead of always nagging, correcting, cajoling, or critiquing — just be quiet. Look for opportunities to lead into a discussion where you can ask your teen to explain their point of view, their solution to a problem, or how they arrived at a conclusion, then allow them to talk. Don't try to correct their thinking — just let them talk.
Some parents just need to zip it. They need to turn the table and allow their teen to ask questions for a change. Teenagers today need to know someone will truly listen to them and not judge them for what is said. So sharpen your own listening habits, and your teen's may grow as well.
The point is, make your home a place where everyone listens and enforce it as a rule.
3. Lighten Up! That's an Order!
Some families need to learn to laugh together. So, make it a rule to do something wacky together every week. Play paint ball. Pull some stunts. Unexpectedly, take everyone to a motel with a pool and a game room for the night. Watch some really funny movies together, or have a water balloon fight on the lawn.
Parents today take themselves and their teens way too seriously, at times. Let your kids see just how goofy you can really become, and make it a goal to make someone in your family laugh every day. Bring some fun things into your home, be impetuous, and smile a little more.
4. Our Rules Will Be Periodically Reviewed
Like "sunset laws," rules need to be reviewed from time to time to see if they are still appropriate for the age of your children. An extreme example is, "We must hold hands crossing the road." Now, that was appropriate for little children, but not teenagers. Likewise, a rule such as "curfew is 10 o'clock" for a 12 year-old may be obsolete for a 17 year-old.
Taking time to communicate to your teen the rule that have changed shows the teenager that you value the idea of having rules and you will make them appropriate for them. Nothing undermines rules, even in society, more than when they are totally inappropriate, like some of these wacky laws:
In Hartford, Connecticut, it is illegal to cross the street walking on your hands.
In Memphis, Tennessee, it is illegal for a woman to drive a car unless there is a man either running or walking in front of it waving a red flag to warn approaching motorists and pedestrians.
In Washington, it is illegal to drive an ugly horse.
In Youngstown, Ohio, it is unlawful to run out of gas.
By the way, some rules never change and these are the kind of rules that apply to all family members, including the adults. They generally have to do with the values you hold dear, like: respect, morality, family observances, faith, common decency and societal laws.
A Relationship that Doesn't Stop
Your teen needs the kind of relationship that doesn't stop even if they overstep the boundaries (and there will be times when they do). At all times, keep reminding your teen: "There's nothing you can do to make me love you less, and nothing you can do to make me love you more. In other words, to do something wrong won't end our relationship. I will love you just the same regardless of your actions, but that doesn't mean I won't enforce consequences for breaking the rules."
What your child wants more than anything else is to have more freedom, while also having a solid relationship with you. A wise parent will give their teenager rules and boundaries and offer them opportunities to choose. Should they break the rules in their search for more freedom, their freedoms will be further restricted, or the opposite of what they sought by breaking the rule. And if they consistently make right choices, then they also need to experience their freedoms expanding. In any event, your relationship remains rock solid and unwavering.