What Heals the Damage Caused by Conflict?

Family ConflictI’ve been confronting kids for 35 years and it wasn’t any easier the last time as it was the first time I challenged or confronted behavior, attitudes, motives, or actions that I thought were unacceptable or inappropriate.  One would think that after living with 2,500+ high school kids, the act of confrontation would be simple and comfortable.  It’s not.  But I have learned this through the years.  I’ve never liked the process of confrontation, but I sure love the results. Conflict is a pre-cursor to change, not only in the life of the one I confront, but in my own life as well.

Face it, conflict will happen within every family.  And when it does, there is always a possibility that something is said or insinuated that might be hurtful to each of the parties engaged in the dispute.  In each case, whether a parent makes a mistake in the approach to the conflict (wrong timing or mishandled accusation) or in the content of the discussion (misinterpreted words or comments wrongly made in the “heat of the battle”), it is always the responsibility of the parent to follow-up these uncomfortable engagements with their child.

A follow-up conversation with your child affirms your relationship with them, and sends a loud and clear message that you can love them just as much when they’ve “blown it” or violated a defined family standard.   More importantly, it gives the platform to follow up and correct any mistakes that they might have made in the process and ask for their continued love when you’ve done the same.  My encouragement to parents is to move toward your child when you are right; and move toward them quicker when you think that you might have or were perceived to wrongly hurt your child.

Not following up on hurtful actions of confrontations to either correct the mistakes you’ve made or affirm the relationship is what allows conflict to cause damage to your relationship with your child.   Remember that you’re not only resolving issues that you have with your child, but, more importantly you are setting the example of conflict resolution and teaching your child how to admit fault, assume a position of humility, and ask for forgiveness for any wrongdoing; all characteristics in a person’s life that are more caught than taught.   This is one of those precious times when your kids get a sample of your example.

It’s a teachable moment that is only learned when a parent asks for forgiveness with a quiet spirit of humility.   And it is a moment that is not quickly forgotten by your child.  A home that is determined to never have conflict so that they will never have damage done to relationships misses the opportunity to not only display these Christ-like traits to one another, they also loose the chance to deepen a relationship with one another.

I’ve found this to be true.  When I see a teen that is unable to show humility and ask for forgiveness for their wrongdoing or admit failure and mistakes, it is usually because they don’t see those qualities displayed at home by their parents.  Moms and Dads, when you pursue your child to prevent or heal the damaged you’ve caused in their life, they will learn to pursue you when they wrong you.

So what are some things that you can do to heal the damage caused by conflict within a family?

1. Learn to say phrases that show your vulnerability and sensitivity to the hurt that is caused in truthful situations or conversations, without letting go of the intent of the confrontation.  In other words, there may not be a problem with your message; it just might have been able to be presented in a more effective manner.  These follow up messages may sound like:

“I was wrong in the way I approached you, but I feel strongly about my message. Will you forgive me for that and allow us to talk about it further?”

– “I made some comments that were out of line…. I was wrong, and I’d like to start our discussion over… can we do that?”

– “I think what I said came out wrong.  I never meant to hurt you.  Would you give me a second chance to tell you what I was thinking?”

2. Be intentional in your discussion about forgiveness to create an atmosphere of forgiveness in your home.  It is usually created when a parents begin interactions with comments like “I was wrong today….”, or “I offended someone today and had to ask their forgiveness.”  Or, “I confronted someone today and found out that I was the one in the wrong…boy, was I surprised.”  Or simply say, “I messed up today.”  And then talk about how you made a mistake. Never will your child respect you more than when and admit a mistake or fault, and ask for forgiveness from them or those around you.

3. Shock your kids and spouse. Be intentional about admitting you’re wrong once in a while.  This action displays a humble heart and gives permission for your child to not have to be the perfect person they feel they must be.  The ability of parents to become humble and admit wrongdoing is the # 1 characteristic I see in families who relate well with one another.  The desire to further a relationship with your child is always a higher calling than “always needing to be right”.

And finally, learn to let go of the hurt that others have caused you.   Allow forgiveness to be a quality that your kids will always remember about you as you parent them the way that God parents you.   Remember God’s statement in Jeremiah, “For I will forgive………and will remember their sins no more” (31:34).  Forgiveness is giving up hope you’ll ever have a better past.   Let it go, and trust God for the days ahead.

Follow these simple steps, and you’ll love the results in your life and in theirs.  And you’ll be surprised how much you will learn in the process.



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential facility for teens located in Hallsville, Texas. Check out our website, www.parentingtodaysteens.org. It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent, such as other helpful articles by Mark, and practical resources for moms and dads. On our website you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens podcast, or find a radio station near you to listen to our broadcast. You can also call us directly at 1-866-700-3264.

What’s the Difference Between a Stubborn Horse and a Willful Teen?

Helping Kids Spread WingsHave you ever had a child balk at your ideas or run from your suggestions, even when you know life could be better if they followed your advice? Do you have a teen that would rather do it “their way” and not “your way?” Let me offer some advice from a lesson I learned when our Heartlight Residential Counseling Center received the gift of two Tennessee Walkers (horses). They are wonderfully spirited horses that we named Knox and Nash, in honor of their Tennessee roots.

The easy part was accepting the gift. The hard part was loading the two powerful animals into an unfamiliar trailer and keeping them calm enough to move them just a few miles to their new home at Heartlight.

The first horse, Nash, loaded up easily. She was older, and trusted me to walk her in without a fuss. We hoped Knox would load up just as readily, but as his handler approached the ramp with Knox in tow, he yanked on the horse’s lead as if to remind Knox who was “boss.” In the process he also closed Nash’s side of the trailer, so Knox couldn’t see his lifelong buddy already inside. What’s worse, the handler allowed his dog to nip at the horse’s heels to try and get him moving onto the loading ramp. Everyone there soon learned that you can’t manhandle a horse into a trailer, especially not Knox.

The handler yanked, pulled, tugged, jerked, and wrenched on the rope for quite some time, but Knox stubbornly refused, and responded by planting his feet and jerking backwards. The harder Knox was tugged, the more he resisted.

I watched with gritted teeth as a second person decided to “help” by picking up and pulling one of the horse’s legs in order to coax him onto the ramp. Knox, who was by now pretty furious about being yanked around by the head, nipped at by a dog, and grabbed at — lost it. He went berserk!

Knox lunged straight up in the air, narrowly missing the top of the trailer. The rope yanked and burned the handlers’ palms as the horse thrashed and retreated. Then Knox kicked up both hind legs at the dog nipping at his heels.

I unhappily watched as the horse-handler with a dented ego and burned hands tried to deal with Knox by yanking even more when he had caught up with him. But, Knox was determined not to go into the dark and unfamiliar trailer.

Now, I’m no horse whisperer, but I love horses, and I understand how a horse thinks. So, I intervened by suggesting we call everything to a halt and give everyone time to calm down. After awhile I took Knox for a walk, and we had a little talk. It did wonders.

Knox didn’t get over his apprehension immediately. But I hoped he would trust me enough to eventually step into the trailer on his own. I calmly walked him up to the edge of the trailer and released the tension on his lead rope. I didn’t let him back up and run away, but I didn’t yank and manhandle him either.

I gave him some feed, talked to him, patted and stroked him. I opened the door so that he could see his friend Nash. I even stood inside the dark trailer to show him everything would be okay.

After 15 minutes of calm, Knox put one front foot onto the trailer. In another five minutes, the other front foot. In another five minutes, the third. That fourth foot took the longest and a slight pat on the rear, but Knox finally stepped up into the trailer.

Knox was nervous about the sound of the trailer’s wood floor, and it was dark and unfamiliar. So I stood in the trailer between the two horses, calmly letting them know that they were going to be okay. We all calmed down together.

Patience, which the handler later exclaimed that he lacked, helped us reach the goal, but my success with Knox was not so much about patience as it was about technique, and giving control back to the animal.

Do you suppose there are any lessons for parenting a resistant teen in this story? You bet! At Heartlight the kids learn a lot from handling horses, and sometimes we learn from the horses as well. Here’s what Knox and Nash demonstrated to us that night that applies directly to parenting teens:

1. No two teens are alike. What works for one, doesn’t work for another. Just because one is comfortable doesn’t mean the other feels the same way. What feels safe for one is scary for another. It’s important to know different techniques to handle their different responses.

2. You can’t get a child to go where you’re not willing to go yourself. Hop up in that place you want your child to go. Let them know that even though it’s scary, it is better.

3. Learn to let go of the rope. When you yank and pull, you create the atmosphere for a fight. You don’t have to be in control. It is better to “give over control” to your teen, and let them focus on why they need to move in the direction you’re inviting them, rather than causing them to rebel against your manhandling techniques.

4. Try a different approach. That which you think must be yanked, pulled, tugged, jerked, and wrenched, might instead need to be lured, attracted, or enticed. Your push-pull technique might work well when making taffy, but it just won’t work with teens.

5. Call a timeout to regain calm. If the situation is out of control go for a walk and have a little talk. It works wonders.

6. Don’t take the steps for them. Create the atmosphere for them to take steps, but don’t do it for them or force them forward.

7. A gentle approach invites a kind response. Your teen’s hesitancy may be in response to the heavy-handed way that you are asking, not what you are asking.

8.A gentle nudge at just the right moment encourages progress.

9. Don’t hesitate to stand with your teen in that new place. It may be momentarily dark, and it may even stink a little … but it builds a great relationship of trust.

Many parents limit their parenting skills to those they already have “in their bag” and don’t look for new ways of dealing with a resistant teen. Teens can be like these horses (and sometimes even as stubborn as mules!). Each is different and responds and learns differently. If your teen has dug in his or her heels and you are getting nowhere, you would be wise to seek a new approach!



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.

Letting Consequences Teach Maturity

Facing Consequences“Everybody, sooner or later, sits down to a banquet of consequences.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

What’s that famous line parents, coaches, and teachers use ad naseum?  Practice makes perfect.  Though it borders on the cliché, the saying holds water.  When we hear a child practice an instrument for the first time, the sounds are anything but pleasant.  The notes screech out, and we’re tempted to cover our ears.  But we don’t let them stop playing the violin or flute just because they can’t hit the notes right off the bat.  As they learn, kids will make mistakes, which should make them practice more.  Eventually, with enough practice, they’ll play that song just right, and we will give a sigh of relief!

The same principle that applies to music, sports, academics, or anything worthwhile, holds true for decision-making, as well.  With enough practice, your child can learn to be more mature, responsible, trustworthy and accountable for their actions.  But that means handing over some of the control.  Unless we allow a child to take full responsibility for their behavior by facing consequences, our teenagers will remain perpetually immature.  If we don’t allow them to practice maturity, they will constantly be blaring that one, screeching note of irresponsibility.

Experience comes from a making mistakes and learning from them.  There lies the heart of maturity – consequences.  If you wonder why teenagers behave irresponsibly, it’s because, well, they are irresponsible.  And, they will not become responsible, or mature, until they deal with the consequences of their choices and behavior.  It is a cycle that needs to happen over and over before a teen comes to full maturity.

So how can mom and dad allow their teen to deal with consequences appropriately?

Don’t Wait – Start Early

I’ve had many parents say to me, “Wouldn’t it be best to wait until I trust my child before I give them more responsibility or control?  Then they won’t have to deal with such difficult consequences.”  My answer has always been, “If you wait until you trust your teen, you will never give them any responsibility.”  By delaying the process of handing over accountability to our kids, we’re throwing away valuable, real- world practice time.  Once they leave the home, all that adult- type responsibility will be on their shoulders, and the consequences they face will be much more serious.  Better to start early, and often, so that when they do face the realities of the world, they do so equipped with the decision- making tools they learned growing up.

Good decision- making is a learned process.  As the writer of Hebrews says, “But solid food is for the mature, who, because of practice (constant use) have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

Gradually hand over the reins, and stop helping teenagers so much – the way you did when they were younger.  You help your teen best by letting them deal with the natural results of their decision, fall down a bit in the process, and then figure out how to get back up.  Don’t wait to develop this necessary skill in your child.  Start early, and often!

Avoid Over-Control

“Over-control” is when well-meaning parents protect their children from the consequences of their mistakes by enforcing strict rules or by trying to oversee all aspects of a child’s life.  There was a recent extreme case of “over-control” when a college student filed a restraining order against her parents, alleging that they required her to leave her computer’s web cam on all the time, so they could see what she was doing and who she was with day and night.  Now, that’s a severe example, but even to lesser degrees, “over-control” can be dangerous.

Overly protected children are more likely to have problems with peer dependence, relationship conflicts, and difficulty setting and keeping firm boundaries. They also run the risk of having problems taking risks and being creative.  Avoid that problem by handing your teenagers more degrees of control and allowing them to face the consequences of their decisions.

Let me give you a few examples:

  • Allow your older teen the freedom to regulate their homework.  Now, they may get an “F” on if they don’t turn it in.  And if they get enough F’s, they will flunk the class.  And if they flunk the class, they will have to make it up in summer school.
  • Buy your teen an alarm clock and give them the responsibility to get up in time for school. They may have to walk to school, pay for a cab, or miss an entire day when they don’t get up in time to make the bus.  If they miss school, they miss the fun after school or this weekend as well.  Don’t write the excuse note that gets them out of the consequences.
  • Your teen gets sent to detention, then let them miss the football game on Friday night, as well.
  • Every year, allow your child more privacy on the Internet.  But if they choose to use the Internet to post an inappropriate image or lifestyle, disconnect the computer for a period of time.
  • Should your teen be arrested, let them sit in jail for awhile.  Don’t bail them out right away. The consequence of spending a night in jail can have a sobering affect on their thinking and force them to reevaluate their life’s direction.
  • If your teenager is ticketed for speeding, not wearing their seat belt, being out past the local curfew, or other infractions of the law, let them figure out how to pay the fine, as well as how to get to work or school the next day, since you will not let them use their car, or yours either.
  • Give your teen the privilege of helping to pay for their insurance and gas when they are ready to start driving.  Don’t even get them their license until they can pay their portion of the first quarter of insurance.
  • Pay for your child’s college as long as they maintain their grades at a level you both agree on prior.  If their grades become unsatisfactory, then they have to pay for the next semester.
  • Give your pre-teen a checkbook, or a debit card with their monthly allowance on it.  If they spend their money foolishly, don’t buy them the things they need.  Let them figure out how to pay for those things.  Doing without teaches the importance of sticking to a budget.
  • Cancel your cable or the Internet service if viewing inappropriate content is a problem for your teen.  Loss of that media is an appropriate consequence that will help them in the long run.

Listen; you are not being a bad parent by allowing these appropriate consequences to follow your teen’s actions.  In fact, you are helping your child learn valuable life lessons, and grow into a mature adult.  That’s being a good parent!  Every culture on earth has a similar proverb like this one: If you rescue them once, you will just have to rescue them again.  Don’t swoop in and rescue your kid when they are face-to-face with the outcome of a bad decision.

Are you willing to start relinquishing control and helping your teenager find out who he is and who God desires for him to be?  This doesn’t mean you stop helping your child.  But it does mean that you guide them into a problem-solving process, even if you don’t solve problems for them.  You may have to repeat this process several times before your teen gets it right, so hang in there.  Eventually he or she will get it, learn how to make good decisions, and avoid unwanted consequences.  And that’s sweet music to any parent’s ears!



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.