Conflict: A Course of Life

Conflict is a course of life, occurring whenever two parties have different agendas or different perceived agendas. What matters is not the conflict itself but how that conflict is resolved.  Parents don’t have to resort to win-lose methods with either the parent or child winning while the other loses. When parents work together with their children, everyone’s needs are met and noone loses. By meeting everyone’s true needs, the conflict ceases to exist rather than escalating in continued attempts to meet the unmet needs.

When Children Don’t Listen

Photo by Dru Bloomsfield

“You aren’t listening to me.” “Please listen.” “Listen to what I am saying.”

Most parents have uttered, or at the very least thought, one of these phrases or something similar at some point. It’s usually said in frustration.
However, when we say this to our children, we don’t really mean that they aren’t listening to us. While that sometimes is the case, a quick look in their eye or a gentle touch of their hand is generally sufficient to catch the attention of a person who didn’t hear us. What we really mean is that our child isn’t doing what we say. On the surface, it’s an artifact of poor communication. On a deeper level, it’s an issue of control.
When we stop to examine why it is that we want our children to do what we say, we’ll find that there are varied reasons. For some, it is a genuine attempt to control another person – one who is smaller and probably can’t do much about it. Even that has deeper levels – often resulting from a parent’s lack of personal empowerment in childhood or of feeling inequal in his/her own adult relationships.
Generally speaking though, most parents have much simpler reasons if they stop to examine them. It may be convenience, fatigue, hunger, a desire to feel respected, or one of many others. Demanding compliance through poor communication doesn’t rectify the situation. In fact, it’s most likely to exacerbate the frustrated feelings of all parties involved, because it doesn’t get to the heart of the matter – the needs of both parties.
When we wish our children would just do as we say, we need to consider the needs of both parent and child. Whether the parent is tired and needs a break or has a need to feel respected, understanding what we really want is an important first step to asking for it. Understanding what is going on with our child (anything from being tired to a lack of impulse control and beyond) is vital to finding a solution that will work for everyone and meet our own neglected needs.

the no-lose method…

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:

  1. Begin by telling your child clearly and concisely that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
  2. Make it understood that you wish to work with your child in order to find a solution that is acceptable to everyone.
  3. Agree on a time to work on the problem when there won’t be distractions.

There are six steps to the no-lose method:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Work out ways to implement the solution. Discuss the details needed in order to implement the solution and gather any necessary tools.
  6. 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.

conflict: the no-lose method (part4)…

The no-lose method of conflict resolution allows parents to discover what is really going on with the child. When you use your power to enforce your own solutions, you don’t unveil the true underlying feelings and needs. In order to deal with an issue, you have to know what the real problem is first. Once you have worked with your child to discover the cause of conflict, solutions generally become apparent.

Aspects of the no-lose method of conflict resolution:

  • Both parties possess equal or near equal power. Neither holds power over the other.
  • The solution must be acceptable to both parties. This is  method for finding solutions which work for everyone. This may look completely different in different families or with different individuals.
  • Involves the principle of participation. Individuals are more motivated to carry out decisions when they are involved in the decision making process. Less enforcement is required in order to implement the proposed plan because all parties are vested in the plan and the outcome.
  • Encourages and requires each involved party to think.
  • Results in less hostility from everyone because both parties are agreeing on a mutually acceptable solution. Both parties leave the situation feeling good because the conflict has been taken cre of and no party has lost, ultimately bringing them closer together. 
  • Eliminates the need for power. Both parties are working together toward a solution. There is no need to grapple for power and no need for coping mechanisms to deal with another person’s power. Allows each party to respect themself and the other person, allowing everyone to win.

The no-lose approach to conflict resolution treats children like people. Parents are able to communicate to their children that the children’s needs are important and that the children can also be trusted to be considerate of the parent’s needs.