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Managing Parent-Child Conflict

Kyle Caldwell, M.Ed, LPCC-S

As I work in the Emergency Department and conduct psychiatric evaluations on children and teenagers, all too often I am responding to crises that likely could have been avoided. These crises are typically resulting from some sort of parent-child conflict in which a child or teen has either made threats to harm/kill themselves, or has become a danger to those whom they live with. I would imagine that many of these situations would not escalate to the point of an emergency if the family had some basic conflict management skills at their disposal. Below I would like to share some ways in which a conflict can be resolved before it becomes a crisis.
  • When disagreements happen, really think about whether or not it is worth fighting over.  Try to avoid the need to “win” as this will almost certainly steer you away from anything helpful or constructive.  If your child has a point to get across then give them time to do so, calmly, and don’t interrupt.
  • When you are expressing your opinions, do so objectively without making value statements.  In other words, calmly state your position and explain why you feel that way.  Avoid name-calling, ridicule, and shouting.
  • If your child has escalated beyond the point of having reasonable conversation then give them space.  Minimize statements and questions directed towards them.  If you say anything at all then offer validation for their feelings as you are primarily communicating with their emotional self rather than rational.  Keep in mind that emotions are analogous to waves in that they vary in intensity but are always temporary.  So give your child the time they need to calm down and let their emotions pass.
  • Make sure to manage your own emotions when there is conflict.  Children and adolescents are not the only ones who can struggle with this, adults do too.  Your child’s ability to manage their emotions will almost certainly be impacted by how well you do it yourself.
  • When all else fails, take a break.  Sometimes people simply need to go their separate ways and come back together when everyone has calmed down.  Discuss using a code word for all to use when everyone needs a break.  When this is used everyone needs to stop immediately and go their separate ways for a designated period of time.  When everyone is calm, then you can try again.
Managing Parent-Child Conflict
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