Perhaps not the word I should begin with, especially if I want you to finish reading this article! However, we all experience moments of conflict and these moments can strengthen our relationships if we manage them well.
I’m sure that you want to build a great relationship with your daughter. You may even want to use moments of conflict to model to your daughter how to communicate effectively and respectfully. But, you may also find that the way you actually manage a moment of conflict is very different from what you hoped and planned.
If so, this article is for you.
How does conflict affect your Physiology?
Think back to a time when you and your daughter experienced a major conflict. Emotions were high, and there is a strong likelihood that someone said something that they now regret. Now, before we start pointing fingers (at either party!), there are a few things worth knowing about what happens in our physiology when our emotions go through the roof. In that moment, our ability to be rational, problem solve and communicate effectively is impaired.
Putting the science lesson aside, think of it like this; your logical mind has packed up, left, and is now sunning itself, poolside in Bali, leaving behind the emotional, impulsive and protective part of your mind to deal with the situation at hand (Porges, 2001; Porges, 2007; Siegal, 1999).
This is not good news for continuing the conversation with your teen.
And it gets worse... not only is this happening to you, your daughter is experiencing exactly the same thing. As her emotions rise, her ability to really ‘hear’ you and to communicate well also disappears. This is the mind’s way of responding when it believes that it is under threat. In that moment, it shifts into survival mode / fight or flight (Porges, 2001; Porges, 2007; Siegal, 1999).
So what does this mean for you when trying to communicate with your daughter?
First (and most important!), if one or both of you are distressed, it is not the time to talk! Do not persevere with the conversation. Instead, call a timeout and then use the following strategies to get back on track.
Remember that because we are now operating from a place of fight or flight, attempts to calm down by rationalising or problem solving are impaired. Instead, we can use our sensory experience to get things back on track. A warm shower (or a freezing cold one if your emotions are at 10/10!), a cup of tea, a mindful walk by the ocean or simply a few deep breaths can really help (Linehan, 2015).
There are hundreds of potential sensory experiences that you could use to gradually allow your logical mind to come back ‘online’. And when you feel more calm, you can begin to logically think about the situation, begin to communicate more effectively, and build a great relationship with your daughter.
In summary: what can you do to communicate better with your daughter?
1: Sit down as a family and discuss a plan (using the steps below) to manage future conflict.
2: In the moment, try to notice when your emotions (or hers) are escalating.
3: Call a timeout if emotions become too strong.
4: Rather than dwelling on the conflict, use the timeout to do a soothing, sensory activity.
5: When calm, think through the situation again then.
6: Come back together to discuss.
Linehan, M. (2015). DBT Skills Training Workbook. Guildford Press.
Porges, S. (2001). The Polyvagul Theory: Phylogenetic substrates of a social nervous system. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 42, 123-146.
Porges, S. (2007). The Poly Vagul Perspective. Biological Psychology, 74, 116-143.
Siegal, D. (1999). The Developing Self. Guildford Press.