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Conflict at home

Disagreements in families are normal and healthy. Here is a guide to resolving family conflict.

Two people arguing

Fighting with family

Disagreements are normal and healthy interactions when they are respectful. 

If family members don’t disagree from time to time, it might mean that someone isn’t getting their say.

Conflict can be stressful, but it’s also a great learning opportunity. Learning to resolve conflict can help you improve your communication strategies and grow as a person.

If you are experiencing family conflict where you feel genuinely unsafe, you might be experiencing an abusive family relationship.

Things parents/guardians and kids might disagree on

Sometimes, people wonder if their conflict is normal and like what other families experience. Here’s a helpful guide to what most families disagree about:

Friends/relationships. It’s normal for family to disagree on friends or partners from time to time.

Important choices/decisions. Sometimes it can be hard to juggle your family’s expectations and your own goals or ambitions in life

Privacy. As you get older, you start to develop your personal boundaries, like privacy. One of the trickiest privacy concerns for teens is technology use.

Freedoms and responsibilities. Being a teen means slowly getting more and more freedom and responsibilities, like learning to drive, getting a first job, starting to date, etc. This can cause conflict.

There is a difference between privacy and ‘unsafe secrets’. Learn more about unsafe secrets.

Why do disagreements increase when you’re a teenager?

Your brain is still developing throughout your teenage years. In fact, your brain doesn’t officially mature until you are in your mid-twenties! 

There are lots of things the teenage brain is better at than an adult brain, such as social skills. But there are some things your brain isn’t so crash hot at, which makes it harder to see some situations clearly or make good decisions. A key motivator for most parents/carers is their love for you and a desire to keep you safe.

Your brain is getting ready for you to be a fully-fledged adult and leave the nest, which makes it normal and healthy to start pushing some boundaries, making decisions and becoming more independent. It’s important to find the balance between freedom, responsibility and safety.

This isn’t just all new to you. It’s also new to your parents, too!

The teen brain is hard at work

The aspects of your brain that are still developing in your teens and twenties include:

  • Assessing risk. Your ability to assess risk is one of the last things to develop. There may be a survival reason for this. Your late teens are when you are at your fittest and strongest. In hunter-gatherer times, things with high risk often had high rewards. Having the fittest members of your community acting in ways that were brave and bold could sometimes be a good thing, if it resulted in a big reward, like hunting a mammoth!
  • Problem-solving and decision making. Because your prefrontal cortex (‘thinking brain’) is still developing, you are more likely to use your amygdala (part of your ‘emotional brain’) to make decisions or solve problems. This means that you are more likely to make emotional or impulsive decisions.
  • Romantic and intimate relationships. Your secondary sexual characteristics are triggered at puberty. Your body takes a long time to get used to hormones, and hormone levels can vary wildly for several years. This affects your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Plus, things like dating and sex are all really new. There’s a lot of trial and error, which means emotions can be high and mistakes are likely.

“There’s an old saying, ‘Don’t raise your voice; improve your argument.’ It’s hard to resolve conflict when you start to feel too emotional. Learning to regulate your emotions is the first step towards being good at resolving conflict.” 
Amanda, Kids Helpline Counsellor

Conflict resolution tips and tricks

  • Pick your battles. Some things are worth fighting for. Some things might not be worth it. It’s important to be able to tell the difference.
  • Learn how to have tricky conversations. Knowing how to have these kinds of chats is a skill everyone can learn and practice. This can help you better manage your personal boundaries, be assertive and find win/win solutions.
  • Learn how to negotiate. The best way to negotiate is to make an effort to really understand what the other person is saying (and not saying). This means lots of active listening, open questions and empathy. If you can understand their motivations, concerns and what’s important to them, it can be easy to find a win/win solution that makes everyone happy.
  • Find common ground. Find stuff you and the other person can both agree on. Perhaps it’s your safety, or a need for you to take on more responsibility.
  • Be gracious in defeat. If you don’t get your way, your behaviour afterwards can help or hinder your chances next time. If you stay calm and act responsibly, you build trust. You can also reflect on and learn from every conversation. 
  • Know what you will compromise on and what’s non-negotiable (and why). Showing a willingness to compromise, especially on things that are important to others, can help you negotiate. It also helps to find out what the other person is flexible with and what’s non-negotiable.

"Relationships are a bit like a bank account. You have to spend time investing in the people you care about. Conflict is a bit like 'withdrawing' money from the bank account. As long as you've been investing in that person, your relationship can usually handle conflict and stress."

Managing tricky conversations

To learn more about assertive communication, managing your boundaries and having tricky conversations, check out 'being assertive and setting boundaries'.

If you’re having trouble with family conflict, you can always talk to us.

Kids Helpline is available 24/7.

Give us a call, start a WebChat or send us an email anytime, for any reason.

This content was last reviewed 02/06/2020

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