Have you ever had a conversation a bit like this?
“Can I have that toy?”
“But’s it’s my favorite kind.”
“I said NO.”
“Because I said SO!”
“Ugh, but… I waaaaaaaaaaaaant it!”
“Please don’t argue.”
“But I REALLY want it.”
“If you don’t stop arguing, you are not getting any sweets tomorrow at all.”
“Oh YEAH? What’s the difference? I never get what I want.”
“Okay. That’s it…no sweets tomorrow. It’s time to leave, let’s go.”
“UGH!!!! I hate you!”
Conflict between parents and children happens in every household. If you haven’t argued about a toy, perhaps you have about a sleep over, more dessert, getting dressed, doing homework, getting more allowance, eating veggies, going to a party and so on…
The “because I said so” and “you get what you get and that’s that…” and giving out consequences approach although popular, seldom leaves parents and children feeling like their reasons have actually been heard. It also doesn’t help children learn conflict resolution skills, something that is a valuable life skill.
Do you dislike conflict but feel like whenever you set a limit conflict is inevitable?
While conflict can be annoying, difficult, disappointing, exasperating, it is also very disconnecting to argue and engage in power struggles. There are many ways to handle family conflict that are more positive and lead to actual resolutions.
Strive to stay positive: Avoid approaching conflict with a reactive attitude, and with the intent to have the final say.Instead, approach conflicts with the aim to understand, resolve and respond.
Listen with the intent to understand: Remember in the example when the child said that the toy was his favorite? That right there is a great place to stop the conflict, listen and understand.
- “uhm…so this toy is your favorite? I hear you. it looks fun to play with.” “Do you wish you could have something new every time we go shopping? Because sometimes I wish I could get myself something new all the time too!”
- “I see it seems really important to you.”
Focus on cooperation instead of control: It is really healthy and helpful in conflict resolution when BOTH sides are able to give input and actually discuss the situation.
- “Alright, what do you propose we do about this?”
- “Tell me what you are thinking and I’ll tell you what I’m thinking, maybe we find a solution”
- “I’d like to tell you my reasons and then listen to yours”
- “We will all have a chance to talk, but let’s take turns so we can really listen to each other.”
Give choices (This is particularly helpful with younger children)
- “I hear that you really like the cake and want another piece AND you’ve had a lot already. What time do you want to have the cake tomorrow – morning snack or after lunch?”
- “Which toy do you want to put away first the truck into the toy box or the puzzle into the drawer?”
- “I know you want the blue pants but they are washing. So how about the jeans or the gray ones, you choose!”
Ask open questions: (This is great for older children)
- “why do you think that is?”
- “can you tell me more about your thoughts on that?”
- “what do you propose we do about it?”
- “What about…..?”
Ask for reasons: Children can learn a lot about peaceful conflict resolution by learning how to argue their point of view respectfully. Practicing with mom and dad is the place to start!
- “can you give me 3 solid reasons to support your idea?”
- “can you please explain why this is important to you?”
- “What is your goal in doing____________”
- “I’d like to hear more about your idea, what else can you tell me about this?”
- “These are my 3 reason to say No, can you turn them around with some reasons of your own?”
Model Flexibility: Let’s say your child does give you really good reasons? It’s not going to make you look like a fool if you say YES. This isn’t about giving in – it’s demonstrating flexibility.
- “I hear your reasons, I’m impressed that you have thought this through so I will go ahead and say YES this time.”
- “You know what, you have convinced me and I appreciate we all stayed cool about this – so YES!”
Strike a Deal: Offer a deal or let your children propose a different solution, often times it’s something that is workable. In fact the more chances they have to practice this skill, the easier it becomes. It’s not the same as giving in or letting them rule the house though. Striking a deal means the solution works for everyone.
- “I can’t agree to the sleep over on Wednesday night but if you can propose a different date we can discuss it.”
- “That way does not work for BUT what other ways can you think of that could work?”
- “If you stop by aunt Marry to wish her a Happy Birthday first, then I think it’s fine for you to go over to Jamie’s house for the rest of the time we are at the party – deal?”
Don’t be afraid to rewind: If you’ve started down the conflict path, pause and rewind:
- “Arguing is not getting us anywhere. Let’s take a break, think and try again when we are ALL cooled off.”
- “Hey, we are arguing and it’s getting us nowhere! Let’s start over.”
- “Ooops, we are arguing instead of really talking about this. Let’s try again.”
Delay your discussion:Over time, when we use this strategy, children trust that we will return to the argument and actually resolve it and they learn that they gain more attention by arguing respectfully.
- “I will discuss this when you are able to do so respectfully.”
- “I’d like to talk about this when I time to listen to your reasons. Let’s put this on hold until later when I can really listen to you.”
- “I’ll be happy to discuss this when we can do it respectfully. I will be in the kitchen cooking, come find me when you are ready!”
- “It seems you have a lot to say about this, but this is not the right time/right place, so let’s meet tonight/at home/when we are cooled off to discuss it”
- “I see how much you want this AND instead of deciding right now, let’s talk about it when we get home.”
Hold Family Meetings: Set a time aside each week where you can peacefully discuss issues that are in disagreement. This is also a time where everyone can practice making requests respectfully, like asking for a certain meal, asking mom for a ride to friends house, money for a school fundraiser and so on…
Aim to set limits with respect, kindness and firmness in mind: There will be times when we will need to set a limit and say no and it can be done in a positive way.
- “I hear your reasons, I understand it’s important AND my answer is No.”
- “I know how much you like this AND today I am saying NO”
- “Cake is delicious, you want more AND tonight is not the time to have anymore.”
- “The toy looks great. We can put it on your wish list, today is NOT the day we will buy it”
- “Sleep overs are great fun, we have agreed that on school nights we will NOT do them.”
- “It’s my job to keep you safe AND my final answer is NO.”
- “I’ve made my decision, I understand it’s not what you had hoped for AND it’s final.”
Support the disappointment: If you’ve set a limit and your child doesn’t like it and responds with crying, whining and yelling – support them in the disappointment.Try to avoid belittling the situation with comments like “oh your idea was ridiculous, there is no way you will sleep over at Johnny’s house on a school night!” and “stop crying already it’s not a big deal” because to your child, it probably is. Instead try to understand your child may need time to huff and puff and really hate your decision so let them own that feeling and process it. Be near by to support them and trust that they will be able to handle and overcome their feelings.
Model good conflict resolution with others: If you and your partner are constantly arguing in negative ways, your child will likely try the same strategy with you, so model positive conflict resolution with others too.
Have a plan for argument related meltdowns: If your child is often upset and mad when they don’t get their way and escalate into tantrums, hitting, yelling and hurting, talk about self-regulation and cooling off strategies and dealing with anger at times when you are NOT arguing and conflicting that will be used if things do get heated.
One last idea! If you feel like everything has turned into a conflict, don’t forget to work on your connection and relationship with your child by spending time together doing fun and wonderful things. Also, turn inwards and see if there is anything YOU can do about your own attitude and how you are approaching things. Are you commanding, demanding and expecting or inviting cooperation, involving and encouraging?
Conflicts are not easy but they do serve a wonderful purpose to bring us closer together, to learn to trust and listen to each other and to love each other even when we dislike or get annoyed by what the other person is saying!
Peace & Be Well,
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