Ep 193: Healthy Ways to Handle Conflicts

Gabe Karp, author of  Don’t Get Mad at Penguins,  joins us to talk about how we can handle conflict with our teens in healthy ways, stay calm during heated arguments and help teens develop critical communication skills.

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Full show notes

We all have conflicts with our kids. Whether it’s over something big like their college major  or something as small as what they’ll eat for breakfast, disagreement is natural. As teens grow into independent thinkers, there’s bound to be some tension in your house. But when your  discussions keep turning into a screaming match and doors start slamming left and right…you might find yourself left wondering, is there a better way??

It turns out, disputes with teens don’t have to feel like emotional warfare! With better tools, we can take the friction between us and our teens and turn it into something productive. Although it’s not easy to keep your cool when teens push your buttons, there are some things we can do to avoid escalating the conversation into a toxic argument! If we can bring the right energy to these quarrels, we can create a more peaceful home and strengthen our bonds with teens along the way.

To help us solve our squabbles in a healthy way, we’re talking to Gabe Karp, author of Don’t Get Mad at Penguins: And Other Ways to Detox the Conflict in Your Life and Business. Gabe’s trial lawyer who later joined a small tech start up and helped turn it into one of the biggest companies in the world! As  a venture capitalist, he’s negotiated multi-million dollar deals. A powerful businessman and a parent, Gabe knows just how much our conflicts can drag us down if we don’t find healthy ways to handle them.

In the episode, we’re discussing why clashes with teens are a natural part of life, and how you can tackle them in a productive, nontoxic way! Plus, Gabe explains how you can use a “shopping list” voice to keep a conflict from escalating, and why sharing  your own experiences with teens can help them feel understood.

Keeping Disagreements Docile 

Although we might see conflict as something to be avoided, it’s pretty much inevitable that we’ll squabble with teens, says Gabe.  It’s not only a natural part of life, it’s a sign that your teen is developing strong critical thinking skills and confidence! Gabe explains that if we can lean into conflict instead of constantly avoiding it, we can be happier and more successful people. It’s important, however, to distinguish between toxic conflict and nontoxic conflict, he says. While nontoxic conflict pushes us to be more honest and find solutions, toxic conflict simply exists to create more problems.

So how can we take the toxins out of our disagreements? Gabe explains that ego and emotional thinking are typically at the center of this problem, especially for conflicts between parents and kids. When kids say they won’t be home by curfew, we start to get anxious about their safety and frustrated that they won't listen, leading us to get angry or lash out. We feel like they’re challenging our authority, which can bruise our ego! But if we can let go of this kind of thinking, we’ll be able to solve the conflict with calamity instead of yelling or fighting, says Gabe.

It can also be effective to try and remove judgment, Gabe explains. We’re often quick to judge our teen’s friends, as a way of sorting out who’s a good influence and who’s bad news. But if we express these judgments to teens and declare they stop seeing these “bad” friends, they’ll only continue doing it behind our backs. It might even drive them further towards a bad crowd! Gabe suggests keeping these judgments to ourselves, and instead prompt teens to make their own judgments.

In the episode, Gabe shares a particularly interesting method for approaching disagreement with teens, which he calls the “shopping list” voice.

Staying Calm During Conflict

When our kids talk back or break our rules, our first instinct is to often remind them who’s in charge by raising our voice and going on a verbal tirade. However, this not only drives a wedge between the two of you, but also makes it literally impossible for them to process what you’re saying, Gabe explains. When humans feel like we’re under attack, many of our neurological pathways shut down and we can’t take in new information properly. This is typically what goes on in kids’ heads when you’re yelling at them to do better!

Instead Gabe recommends communicating your frustration in what he refers to as a “shopping list” voice. This means talking to your kid in a neutral,  matter-of-fact tone, as though you’re reading them a list of the  grocery store items you might need. Keeping your tone dispassionate while still expressing your frustration with the situation helps you communicate your message very clearly to a teen, making sure they don’t miss the message at hand. It can be hard, however,  to stay this calm and collected when you’re about to boil over. Gabe shares some tips for keeping cool in the episode.

Oftentimes, this shopping list talk can start to sound like a lecture. Although you don’t want to react emotionally in the situation, it can be helpful to speak with empathy, says Gabe. Teenagers are feeling a lot of things, and showing that you understand where they’re at emotionally will help bring them around to your side of the issue. Some teens truly feel  that their  life will be ruined if they don't go to a particular party. Even though we know that’s not true, it can be valuable to validate those feelings and even share a time when you felt the same way!

In fact, sharing your own experiences and feelings can be an essential part of conflict resolution. Gabe and I talk about this in length in our interview.

Why Vulnerability Matters

Most of the time, we really do know how teens feel…because we were teens once too! We know the crushing feeling of being rejected by our crush, the social pressures of seeming cool in the high school hallways, and the constant confusion about who we are or want to be. If we can share stories and feelings from our own youth, teens might understand that we’re not trying to ruin their lives, but instead lead them down the right road. It doesn’t have to be a story from your teen years either, says Gabe. Maybe you’ve got a situation at work that feels just as challenging as finding a date to the prom!

Once you’ve presented an idea to your teen and shared all the reasons why you think you’re right, Gabe suggests giving them a chance at a rebuttal. Even though you might not want to hear it, your teen might just make a good point that shifts your perspective on the entire situation. Teaching kids to justify their beliefs, speak about their emotions  and provide explanations for their behavior is a great way to instill positive communication skills that they can bring into adulthood.

However, Gabe recommends straying away from telling teens what it is they’re feeling. Although you may have felt angry and sad about your SAT score as a teen doesn’t mean your own teen is feeling that way! If you try to assign them feelings, they’re bound to get defensive. Gabe suggests we tell them how we felt in our own version of the situation, and then wait for them to tell us how it is for them. That way, we can connect, communicate and work through conflict in a healthy way.

In the Episode…

Managing disagreement is no easy task, but with Gabe’s tips, we can work towards peaceful, productive conversations. On top of the topics discussed above, we also talk about:
  • How we can teach teens to set boundaries
  • Why control tactics tend to backfire
  • How we actually  empower teens when we enforce rules
  • What goes on in a teen’s head during conflict with parents
If you enjoyed this week’s episode, you can find more from Gabe on his website, gabekarp.com! Don’t forget to share and subscribe and we’ll see you next week.

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Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Ep 193: Healthy Ways to Handle Conflicts
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