Adapted from Natural High
Conflict is an inevitable part of life, no matter who you are. For teenagers, conflict is constant, and some experience it more than others.
Whether it’s an argument with a sibling, back talking to a parent, or confusion over who was supposed to save a seat at the lunch table, learning to navigate disagreements and hurt feelings is a must.
According to the Search Institute, “Research shows that young people who resolve conflicts peacefully do better in school, have higher self-esteem, and are less likely to use alcohol and other substances.”
- Kids who learn to resolve a conflict have stronger bonds with their families. In homes ripe with unresolved conflict, they carry stress and anxiety wherever they go. That can lead to poor academic performance from an inability to concentrate. Feeling disconnected from their family will cause most kids to seek even more acceptance and validation from their peers, often causing them to make poor choices.
- Kids who learn to resolve conflict with their peers experience more support and stability. Since the adolescent years are typically filled with switching alliances, sudden changes in group dynamics, and poor communication, learning how to address hurt feelings and misunderstandings are crucial.
Most adults learned how to resolve conflict from their family of origin during childhood. That means they repeat the patterns they observed, for better or worse. Teaching conflict resolution to kids starts with modeling how we manage conflict.
- Think of the moments in recent days or weeks when you had a misunderstanding that led to a fractured relationship. Reflect on the steps you took to resolve that misunderstanding and how it felt to move through the conflict. When you have the opportunity, share that story with the kids in your life.
- Pay attention to the stories you tell yourself when you feel hurt or find yourself pulling away from someone you care about, either in your personal or professional life.
Consider alternative stories that might explain your feelings or the other person’s behavior, and share those different narratives with the kids in your life. Don’t wait for them to ask you (they won’t). Instead, just share with them the next time you have a captive audience.
- Reflect on opportunities you might have to repair a damaged relationship. Consider what you’ve done to contribute to the disagreement, misunderstanding, or hurt feelings. Share that with the kids in your life, and ask them to give you some advice before you approach the person you’re in conflict with.
Then, circle back after and share how it went. You’ll be modeling the courage and thoughtfulness that conflict resolution requires, and they will feel like they are a part of the story with you.
Kids need to see the adults in their lives work conflict out in real time until it clicks for them that this is how healthy, mature people go through life. Don’t assume they will figure it out on their own.
They’re watching you to see what you do and then copying your behavior without realizing it.
If you want to teach a kid how to live well, showing them is infinitely more important than telling them. Talking, though, has its place.
1. Celebrate conflict resolution:
A common phrase says, “What gets celebrated gets repeated.” If you notice a kid making steps to resolve a conflict they’re facing, do whatever you can to praise and affirm them. When you do, they and their friends will start noticing what’s important to adults and feel proud of themselves and empowered to keep going.
2. Point out and challenge:
It’s hard to be around an adolescent for any length of time without hearing about a conflict they face. You’ll often notice what they’re doing to avoid rather than resolve that conflict. Maybe they’re talking about someone in a negative way. Perhaps they talk about how the friendship is over. You have an opportunity to act like a mirror, point out the conflict they’re in, and challenge them to move through their hurt feelings to preserve their friendship. Let them know that if a friend is important, there are always ways to find forgiveness and understanding.
3. Share case studies:
Drawing upon stories from your own life or other kids you’ve been around, you can share the details of a real-life conflict and ask kids to give their advice on how they would resolve it. Don’t let avoidance, or becoming hateful or hurtful, be options. Rather, ask them if resolving the conflict was necessary and what steps they could take to get there. Explore with them different tactics they could try and the results of each of the possible scenarios.
4. Play the mediator:
When you notice a conflict, perhaps between siblings or students in your classroom, step in and help facilitate resolution. Best practices recommend spending a few minutes with each person before bringing them together. Let them express their hurt feelings with you, rather than the other person. Help them explore what’s underneath their feelings and examine ways they might have contributed to the conflict, either directly or indirectly. Then, bring them together, facilitate a way for both parties to share their experiences and feelings, and help them explore forgiveness, reconciliation, or a resolution.
Conflict resolution isn’t a set of skills someone can learn through a worksheet or a teaching video. It’s something you have to experience for yourself. It helps to see it in real-time as a neutral party. It helps to have someone guide you through the process, too.
The more a kid can learn how to resolve conflict in a healthy way, the better every aspect of their life will be.