Previous article in this series: Finding the best solution to any conflict

When the Smalley kids were teens and large conflicts came up within our family, we tried to follow the next eight steps as closely as possible. They helped greatly to keep our anger levels low and our honour high. They also helped us create a win/win solution.

1. Remember you’re on the same team

This is huge! Just keeping this in mind can change the way you treat one another as you communicate and negotiate. Remember, it is not acceptable for one of you to walk away feeling like you’ve lost. It is not worth it!

2. Clearly define the problem issue and facts through listening

To resolve a conflict, it’s necessary to first clearly define what the conflict is about. It could just be the result of fatigue, miscommunication, unclear rules, or a low sugar level. Or perhaps someone has an unspoken desire.

Take time to understand how the other person feels. There’s a great likelihood that your conflict will melt away as you really go deeper and under­stand each other’s deeper feelings and concerns. Often, a parent and teen will find out that they are really not as far apart as they thought.

It may help to ask questions like "What’s really going on?" or "What change would be needed to satisfy you?"

3. Don’t be impulsive — get the facts

The next step in resolving a conflict is to consider all the facts. Impulsive actions can be limited if we agree as a family to gather facts before making a decision, especially during the heat of a disagreement. But don’t get overwhelmed thinking, Great, we have to get all the facts before we can make any decision! Sometimes the resolution to a conflict or the wise deci­sion to make is so obvious that you don’t need a major fact-finding mission. On the other hand, there will be times when a solution is not immediately apparent, or you and your teenager won’t agree on the solution.

Sometimes, of course, we parents have to make tough decisions when we can’t reach agreement with our teens, and they have to abide by them. But gathering the relevant facts often makes the right choice clear to everyone involved, and it also increases the honour and decreases the anger in our homes. Further, it teaches teenagers a valuable skill: logical discernment. It never hurts to consider facts, but ignorance of the facts can cause a lot of damage.

4. Pray and seek wise counsel

Pray together. Some conflicts resolve at this point when you discern God’s leading on the issue. Furthermore, it is almost impossible to want to pray with someone when you’re really angry or "closed." This step is a good internal check-in. If you don’t want to pray together, you probably shouldn’t be trying to resolve the conflict at this time — you’re probably not very safe and are likely to say or do something that means you feel more like an enemy than a teammate.

In addition to prayer, another way to help solve difficult problems or make wise decisions is to seek opinions from wise people. This doesn’t mean just going to someone who you know already agrees with your position. We want to stress the word wise. It does no good to seek advice from those who may not know anything, are immature, or may be "darkened in their under­standing" by sin.

Whether the wise counsel comes from a parent, a teacher, a coach, a mentor, a youth pastor, civil servants, or other authority figures, help your teenager to actively pursue good advice when faced with a significant deci­sion.

5. Create solutions by brainstorming a "pro versus con" list

Brainstorm solutions. Now that each of you understands where the other person is coming from, you can begin to generate ideas that have the poten­tial for being win/win solutions. Don’t judge or criticise the ideas at this stage; the idea is to be creative and generate a list of options.

One of the best methods our family found for brainstorming was a "pro versus con" list. It’s simple, and it keeps peace in the midst of negotiation. It also helps guard against a major roadblock to honouring solutions: manipulation.

When parents put pressure on their teenager to make a particular choice (or vice versa), it can cause major conflict. But the pro versus con list enables us to look at the issues more objectively and factually, promoting harmony in the process.

6. Agree on one or more of the solutions

Remember, the goal is for both of us to feel good about our decision. But suppose we’ve done a pro versus con list with a teen and we’re still at odds.

Our recommendation is that the parent and teen brainstorm several additional potential solutions. We’ve found that when parents and teens do this, a choice usually emerges that they both like. This is different from a compromise because instead of both parties giving in, they’ve identi­fied a new solution that they both find acceptable.

Sometimes the win/win solution becomes apparent with amazing ease and quickness. But it must be done in honour. As parents working through this process, we need to make sure we don’t close our teen’s spirit. Even after having a good drive-thru talking experience and doing a pro versus con list, anger can reemerge if a win/win solution isn’t found right away. But if we remain persistent, most conflicts can be resolved.

7. Write down the agreement

Because it’s so easy to forget what decisions were made during an argument, it’s good to develop the habit of putting agreed upon solutions down on paper. That helps to assign responsibility for the future, as each person will then know exactly what’s expected of him or her. It also holds those involved accountable for their future behaviours and choices.

8. Make sure anger is dealt with after the conflict has ended

When we parents admit our contribution to the problem and seek for­giveness, our words and actions go a long way toward promoting honour and decreasing anger in a teenager’s life.

When you still can’t resolve conflict

We encourage you as a family to establish a mutually agreed-upon per­son who, in the event of a major impasse, will listen to both sides and help solve the problem. This goes beyond seeking wise counsel, which we dis­cussed earlier. Find someone acceptable to each member of the family — someone who can remain unbiased, whom everyone respects and feels safe with, and who will maintain confidentiality and privacy.

Having such a person available gives your family support and accounta­bility. Likewise, when you get an outside opinion to help solve a family conflict, you can tap into a source of new information or perspectives you hadn’t considered before. That person might provide the fresh idea that helps you and your teen to find a win/win decision.

A Final Comment About Resolving Conflicts in Honour

Part of resolving conflicts with our teens in honour is to recognise that they need the freedom to make more and more of their own choices. Just how many and how soon depends on their age and maturity level – it will be dif­ferent for every child. This is a normal and necessary part of growing into adulthood. As they demonstrate the ability to make wise choices, they earn further responsibility.

As parents, we help them not only by giving them this increasing free­dom, but also by holding them accountable for their decisions. If they make poor choices, they need to face the logical and natural consequences that fol­low. This is called discipline, which is a clear parental responsibility: "Correct your son, and he will give you comfort; he will also delight your soul" (Proverbs 29:17). For our teens, discipline is a learning opportunity. Look at what the Bible says about receiving it:

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. (Proverbs 12:1)

© 1998, 2005 Gary Smalley and Greg Smalley. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Adapted from "The DNA of Parent-Teen Relationships" a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers.

Gary and Greg Smalley

Gary Thomas Smalley was an American family counsellor, president and founder of the Smalley Relationship Centre and author of books on family relationships from a Christian perspective.
His son, Dr. Greg Smalley serves as executive director of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family. Prior to joining Focus, Smalley worked for the Centre for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University and as President of the National Institute of Marriage. He is the author of eleven books including The DNA of Relationships, The DNA of Parent and Teen Relationships and The Wholehearted Marriage.

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