Psychological Safety and Conflict
Updated: Nov 17, 2021
These days, with a lot of tension in our households there can be more pressure to manage
conflict in ways that preserve psychological safety. Psychological safety is a term used to make sure that people feel safe to talk, to be heard, to be validated in their experience and to have a right to take time away from the conversation, without punishment. There are a couple of things to consider if you are trying to talk through some of the primary conflict topics that families might face, during times of tension.
1. Do not accuse children/teens of lying. If you find that there is a family member
(especially children) that is not telling the truth, you can talk with the child about how
you could become a safe person, whom they would be able to talk too. Ask them how
can you make the relationship safer for them to share what is going on? A lot of
children, teens and adults do not tell the truth, when they are under stress and/or they
are afraid to tell their parents or another adult something. To participate in
relationship safety means that we are seeking to be a part of the change process.
Psychological safety would invite us to develop a safer relationship in which a child
could share what has happened and why they felt that they could not share what was
going on. To ask a child to be vulnerable when you are mad at them for not telling the
truth is a big ask. To invite the child into a relational dynamic that would help you build
psychological safety is a better way to create safe conversations that support
To enhance communication you can utilize a DBT such as GIVE:
G - Gentle: be nice and respectful, stay calm
I - Interested: listen and appear interested (eye contact, lean in, do not interrupt)
V - Validate: with words and actions
E - Easy manner: smile, be light hearted, sweet talk, and ease them along
2. Make sure you have your conversations after people have been fed and have had time
to decompress the daily stress that they carry home with them. Even smaller children
bring home their daily stressors which might present as upset, angry, defiant, or quiet.
Give everyone an hour of down time to decompress and fill up on some good nutrition
to be better able to communicate their needs and emotions. A brain that is too
overwhelmed will function from its flight, fight, and freeze system versus a strong
capacity to receive your thoughts/emotions and to bring forward their own.
3. Late night conversations before bed are not the best for children/teens' brains and
sleep. Difficult conversations at night leave children/teens and adults with big emotions
and significant stress that stays stuck in their bodies and keeps their brains activated for
hours. This leads to decreased sleep, increased anxiety, stomach problems, and
possible mood dysregulation. Nighttime is a time for connection. Emotional safety
through, strong connections, within the family allow for children/teens to recharge and
recover from their day-to-day stress.
4. Lastly, remember that if you are angry, you need to find ways to reduce your anger
(especially as an adult). Adult anger can be extremely difficult for children and teens to
handle. When we are angry, we tend to function from our older brain (the brain stem)
and the limbic center (emotion center) and fight, flight, or freeze. When we use anger
in conversations, we are seeking to control another person. Control can turn into
unhealthy patterns of behaviors. When angry walk away, go for a walk, write your
thoughts/emotions down on paper, call the distress center and talk to someone and/or
get additional support. You can write down your issues of concern and talk about them
when you feel more in control of your emotions.
To ensure that you are responsive and not reactive, try a DBT such as STOP:
S - Stop: Do not just react. Stop! Freeze! Do not move a muscle! Your emotions may try
to make you act without thinking. Stay in control!
T - Take a step back from the situation: Take a break. Let go. Take a deep breath. Do not
let your feelings make you act impulsively.
O - Observe: Notice what is going on inside and outside you. What is the situation?
What are your thoughts and feelings? What are others saying or doing?
P - Proceed Mindfully: Act with awareness. In deciding what to do, consider your
thoughts and feelings, the situation, and other people’s thoughts and feelings. Think
about your goals. Ask Wise Mind: Which actions will make it better or worse?
As we continue to navigate the complexities of COVID-19, we need to focus on
psychological safety in order that our youngest, our most vulnerable and the family
systems that we are a part of continue to emotionally thrive, during this stressful time.
dr. patricia and the Calgary Therapy Institute therapy team