We all have opportunities to practice conflict resolution and our best start...is at home!
Conflict resolution is such a broad topic and between you and me, sometimes the topics can be a little….dry! However, the truth about how we all handle conflict, is that it starts small. The little moments of how we speak to each other, how we deal with being frustrated or angry, how we approach conversations that are difficult, how we teach our kids to resolve conflict with their friends or at school all combine to create our personal and family culture with conflict. Within the busyness of everyday life, it is easy to lose sight of what our children are learning from us.
Here are some places to start when being conscious of fostering positive conflict resolution at home:
Spend some time taking an emotional/mental inventory of how your family handles conflict and disagreements. If there was a video camera set up in your home that you were reviewing, what kind of conflict would you see on an average day? What would you hear? How would you see yourself interacting with your partner in times of disagreement? What about with your kids? This isn’t always an easy exercise and sometimes it shows us things that we aren’t happy about. If that’s the case, be open with yourself about what you’re feeling.
Consider your conflict style and that of those in your home and family. The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) has been around for decades and is used by everyone from Human Resource professionals to mediators to measure an individual’s behavior in conflict. Without going into exhaustive detail, the five conflict styles are: Avoiding, Accommodating, Compromising, Collaborating, Competing and describe different approaches an individual takes to conflict based on varying degrees of assertiveness and cooperativeness. More in-depth details, including how you can access the assessment to understand more about your own conflict style can be read here: https://www.kilmanndiagnostics.com/overview-thomas-kilmann-conflict-mode-instrument-tki
Remember, we are teaching our children by them watching what we are doing. Refresh yourself with the idea that you can and need to be in control of the content, intensity, duration of conflict and how it is handled. That goes for all of us. In reality, we know we cannot control when conflict arises or what it will be about, but we can control how it is handled and what our children are exposed to. Not all conflict needs to be hidden away from the ears and eyes of children, however we need to be focused about what we want them to hear, see and experience and how much stress it may cause them. Children witnessing conflict about an issue that is being peacefully handled can teach them immense amounts about how they too can handle it. If you parent with a partner, this is a great conversation to have together. Decide what your ‘cut-off point’ is for a conversation that is becoming stressful, when it’s time to take a break and how you will communicate that to each other.
Set a tone in your family that allows room for all emotions to be felt and experienced through discussion. This includes anger, frustration, disappointment, and sadness. Do a quick inventory of how this is going for you in your home….pay attention to whether you are saying things like, “Don’t be angry,” or “You shouldn’t be sad about that.” Adopting a family culture where all emotions are totally acceptable can decrease stress, confusion and conflict and increase peace and emotional intelligence. With that in mind, we can teach our children that while all emotions are acceptable, how we respond to our feelings is our responsibility. This leaves room for how we handle our emotions a point of discussion and learning process.
Use breaks and time-outs in a positive way! We all have likely experienced reaching a point in conflict when we need to take a break and calm down. Unfortunately, sometimes this comes in the form of yelling, slamming doors and things that sound like, “I’m DONE!” or “Go to your room!” When used in a different way, breaks and time outs can be a powerful tool that can help to transform conflict into peace for families.
Try talking about using breaks as a family. When one family member is angry, frustrated or confused, the situation can feel overwhelming and physiologically, it can be hard for our minds and bodies to think clearly and make choices that are rooted in calmness and clarity. When we give ourselves and our families the space to step back, take deep breaths, calm down and think about the situation, we open up a space for better conversation and resolution. Try taking 10-15 minutes, longer if you need to, to go to a quiet space (if possible), take some deep breaths and think about what is happening and how you’re feeling. Make it clear about what you’re doing by saying, “I need to take a break talking about this. Let’s try this again in a few minutes.” This is a great strategy to teach children as a way of empowering them in communication.