If I had a nickel for every time I have told my kids, “Figure it out among yourselves. I am not your referee,” I’d have a hefty savings account! Instead, I have no money (blame the kids – they eat a lot and keep growing out of their clothes), but I do have kids who can resolve conflicts among themselves, usually, without my constant intervention. Sure, I do have to break up the occasional battle over something stupid, like the perfect stick (yes, they play outside and have great imaginations), or Lego pieces. Life with six kids is bound to be loud and riddled with arguments and fighting in between the adorable pictures. Ours is. I have tried (at times more successfully than others) to transfer skills learned as a special educator to life as a mom. Here are my best rules for resolving conflicts at home:
1. Have rules for arguments
Yes, arguments happen, so before they do, make sure everyone knows what is expected. Not every mom has taken a class in conflict resolution (I have), but many could teach one. These tips and rules can work for simple disagreements about toys, up to teenage problems with siblings, or boy/girlfriends to parent/child (and even husband/wife) interactions. Yes, parents do get the final say in my house, but there are times when I may entertain an argument. Here are some basic rules of engagement:
- No name calling. People can disagree or be angry without using hurtful words or behavior.
- Respect each other. After all, we are family and still love each other at the end of the day.
- Calmly state what you want or why you are upset. Communicate slowly, clearly, honestly.
- Listen without interrupting. Hear him or her without planning your reply while they speak.
2. Be willing to get creative
Once both parties know what the other person wants, it might be a simple misunderstanding. Maybe both want the same things in the end but were bumping heads on the path to get there. It might, however, require a bit more finesse. Encourage creative or unique ways for both to get their way. Yes, this requires adult intervention, but after a few times, it might only take a little verbal prompt like, “Think outside the box,” to train your kids to do this on their own. Encourage fairness but recognize that there may be a winner/loser, first/last situation that doesn’t have an all-parties-equally-happy solution.
3. One or both parties may have to compromise
It’s life. Not everyone gets what they want when they want, but families can usually work out something that will work for everyone; not perfectly, but within reason. Try to see the situation from the other person’s perspective to at least understand where they are coming from. This ability to empathize with others will serve your kids well in the real world, possibly inspiring them to make it a better place for all of us to live. I know this personally, from my work with families who host au pairs as live-in childcare help. The language and cultural barriers these folks overcome to bring their children a cultural childcare experience is rather inspiring. Children who have seen compromise in action are often great ambassadors and peace-makers in social circles and later in their careers.
4. Some situations require time and space
It is true that if you have nothing nice to say, you should say nothing. It is also true that there may be times when one person is just too mad or upset to talk calmly or rationally. In this case, time out is good. Maybe not literally, but it may be appropriate for one party to walk away and just agree to disagree, or talk about it later. We all know someone, or remember a situation, where one person continued to escalate a situation and all hell broke loose. To avoid a major incident, or domestic, civil or criminal charges, one or both people may need to accept defeat. In the end, the sun will come up tomorrow and you will still be family members. It may look different when you see the situation tomorrow, or it may not, but it’s best not to make it worse today.
5. Open and honest communication is always the solution
People will disagree, there is no doubt about that. Just look at the news any time of any day. How we resolve our conflicts is more than just kids learning to play nicely with others, though. These skills will do us well in our global society, rich with opportunities to resolve a plethora of problems. Kids (and adults alike) need to learn the truth of Mick Jagger’s famous 1969 lyric, “You can’t always get what you want,” without being sore losers. When it’s not possible to get your way, what are you going to do about it? Will crying and stomping your feet help? Not likely. Creative thinking, talking with others, and an honest, positive approach is the best direction. At least, that’s what this veteran mom advises.
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