It was one of those idealistic parenting moments. I was in the kitchen washing dishes, and all four of my children were happily playing together in the living room.
The game of the moment was a pirate one, and there were plenty of giggles amidst the “Arghs.” In one of my glances, I saw my eight year old wielding a foam sword in perfect form. Another time, my three year old was proclaiming to be the Dread Pirate Roberts (I’ve mentioned we are a family of bibliophiles). The throw pillows morphed into a gang plank and the fish in our aquariums were hungry sharks.
As the climax of the game approached, I heard something that made me pause. “Send in the baby! He won’t harm her.” I had to laugh at my son’s use of diplomacy.
Though conflict, we learn to establish healthy boundaries between ourselves and other people. Conflict provides an opportunity for growth and learning. This is true not only for children, but also for ourselves.
The word should is very negative. Its conditional nature breeds guilt and shame. Used about another person, it implies blame. Things we should have done are in the past and can’t be changed. Things we should do in the future serve to set up guilt if we don’t get them done. Acting how we should limits authenticity. If we replaced the word should with the word could, not only could we bypass the guilt and other negative feelings, we would open up limitless possibilities.
Everyone tends to get frustrated at times. Our family is no exception. Whenever that happens, we remind each other, regardless of age, to take a deep breath.
Taking a deep breath helps to calm us. The physical act of deeply filling one’s lungs and exhaling reduces stress. When stressed, we breathe in short, shallow breaths; deep breaths help to relax us. Breathing deeply also releases endorphins which help us to better deal with stress. It helps us to clear and focus our minds.
The time it takes to take a deep breath also breaks the current cycle of reactive thought. We can once again focus on finding a solution rather than expending all of our thought and energy on our frustration.
Cooperation has long been a survival skill. Tribal communities have utilized cooperation in order to meet everyone’s needs for millenia. With the advent of nuclear families, the focus on such cooperation took a back seat. Once again, with the increasingly interconnectedness of our society, it is once again becoming readily apparent that cooperation, along with communication, are vitally important to our species. Cooperation begins at home.
My in-laws were visiting us one time, long before we had children. We had gone out to eat and as we sat there in the restaurant, they began to lecture. “You can’t be your child’s friend. You have to be the parent. Parents will always be parents.” The irony of what they said as they sat talking to their adult son seemed to be lost on them. He was grown. He no longer needed a parent, and because his parents were never his friends, they really had no place left in his life.
It’s possible to be your child’s parent and their friend. One does not negate the other. In fact, parents who are both parent and friend to their children find that only strengthens the bond they have with their children. As children grow older, they need less parental help in life. Those children who have a mutually respectful relationship with their parents find that the friendship aspect only strengthens with time, rather than the relationship diminishing as their need for parents diminishes.
My children, along with my husband, are my best friends. Friends don’t always share all of the same interests. They don’t even always agree with one another. However, friends are supportive of one another, even when they are unsupportive of specific decisions or actions. It is not impossible to be both parent and friend to one’s children with respectful, honest communication. In fact, it’s crucial if parents want a strong relationship with their children to continue past childhood.
The no-lose method of conflict resolution allows everyone to work together in order to find mutually agreed upon solutions which work for everyone.
First, you must set the stage for how the no-lose method will work:
Begin by telling your child clearly and concisely that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
Make it understood that you wish to work with your child in order to find a solution that is acceptable to everyone.
Agree on a time to work on the problem when there won’t be distractions.
There are six steps to the no-lose method:
Identify and define the problem. During this time, the needs of everyone should be stated. Many times the true problem is different from what we originally perceive it to be. Parents should be conscious not to give solutions instead of defining needs. You should tell your child clearly and as strongly as you feel exactly what feelings you have and what needs of yours are not being met or what is bothering you. I-messages are useful in order to avoid put down messages or blame. Active listening is a useful tool for distinguishing between needs and possible solutions and to make certain you understand your child’s needs. State the conflict or problem so that everyone agrees what the true issue is.
Generate possible alternative solutions. This is where brainstorming comes in. Everyone is welcome to offer possible solutions. In fact, parents should encourage their children to offer soultions first. Children are very insightful and may offer solutions that parents had not even considered. Avoid evaluating and showing preference for any solution. At this point in time, you are only brainstorming possibilities.
Evaluate alternative solutions. Figure out what each person is willing to do. Narrow down solutions to one or two best possibilities. Be honest with one another about how you feel regarding each possible solution.
Decide on best acceptable solution. By this point in the process, one solution may clearly stand out from all of the others and be accepted by all involved parties. If not, verbally test out some of the other solutions and see if they would work for everyone. remember that solutions are not final. Life isn’t static. If the tried solution doesn’t work for everyone, reevaluate and change. Multi-part solutions may need to be written down in order to help everyone remember. It should be clear to everyone that they are making a commitment to try the solution.
Work out ways to implement the solution. Discuss the details needed in order to implement the solution and gather any necessary tools.
Follow up to evaluate if the solution worked. Don’t forget to check back with everyone to see if the solution is working. If not, reeveluate and find something that works better for all those involved.
There are three methods of conflict resolution. The first method, and the one employed by most parents, involves the parent winning the conflict while the child loses.
Relationships are symbiotic. When one half loses, the entire relationship loses. Parents may have won the fight, but they are losing in both the short and long-term.
When a person has no choice or voice in a matter, resentment builds. It’s difficult to have empathy and understanding for someone who continually uses their age or strength to bully you into doing something. While these feelings may build over a period of time, damaging the relationship in the long-term, other effects will be readily visible right away.
When a person is not involved in the process of conflict resolution, they have little motivation in following through with the decided plan. This makes enforcement of the plan rather difficult. Parents who employ the I win, you lose method are likely to find themselves spending a lot of time trying to get their children to do what they want in the form of reminders, threats, punishments, or rewards. Cooperation is not fostered by forcing someone into compliance. Parents ultimately make life harder on themselves by making life full of battles.
Conflict is a matter of life. However, conflict is not by definition negative. Conflict can be a catalyst for much needed change. It can bring about learning. It can bring us closer together. Conflict, in and of itself, is unavoidable. How we handle conflict is what matters.