If you are stuck at home due to Coronavirus-forced isolation, and there is tension and arguments, the next few weeks and months could be a nightmare.
Many adults struggle to deal well with conflict. Partly because they hated conflict growing up, and partly because they don’t have the skills to deal with it effectively.
So, if tensions are running high at home, what can you do to help calm things down?
It’s good to understand that there are three steps to solving conflict
- Listen and empathise
- Explain your point of view clearly and respectfully
- Collaborate to find solutions
So how can you use this to sort out a conflict with your child, help two of your children resolve an argument, or solve conflicts without an argument with your teenager or partner?
Parent / child conflict
If your child is refusing to do things, arguing, being rude, answering back or being generally difficult, it’s important to talk with them.
Find a good time, when both of you are calm.
Explain you’d like to talk about how to make life at home calmer and happier and say you need their help.
Empathise with the difficulty they are facing. Their normal life, school, meeting with friends, getting out and about has been stopped. They have no say in it, and it is very hard for adults to adjust, let alone a child who feels helpless in all of this.
Then go through the three steps to solving conflict
- Listen and empathise with your child. Let them explain their frustrations and focus on just listening. Don’t try to minimise their anger or upsets or contradict them. Your child has some big feelings and it’s important you acknowledge the frustrations they feel. Feed back what you are hearing, and check with your child if you’ve understood completely.
- Explain your point of view clearly and respectfully. Talk about the issue you’re having with their behaviour. Treat your child as if they are older than they are. Ask for their help to resolve the issue. It may be useful to explain that you want a calm, happy family life, where you can resolve issues and talk respectfully to each other.
- Collaborate to find solutions. Ask your child, what would help resolve the issue. If tensions are running high, ask how you could all speak to each other respectfully. Could you have a chart and tick each hour where everyone has stayed calm? What ‘family reward’ could you earn at the end of the day for a 90% success rate? Could you achieve 100% success?
Conflict between siblings
If your children are constantly bickering, squabbling, arguing and fighting, teach them to sort out their own arguments, with you acting as a mediator.
This may sound laborious, but if you do this just a few times, soon your children will learn how to resolve differences themselves. Just imagine how good that will feel!
- Get the children together and explain the reason they’re there is to sort out the problem.
Then talk through the ground rules:
- The children aren’t to talk when the other child is talking – they’ll get their turn to talk too. For some children, if it helps you can have a talking stick, where the child who holds it can talk and the other child has to listen.
- There’s to be no name-calling.
- And if things get heated everyone will take a break and come back in half an hour.
- Allow each of the children to explain their point of view. Ask one child to speak first, without anyone interrupting, and then the second child has their turn with no interruptions. So, each of the children talks and explains their side.
- Write down each of your child’s feelings and concerns. And after they’ve finished, read them aloud and check you’ve understood properly.
- Give them the right to reply. Both the children then have a chance to talk again and to respond to the things the other child has said. Say what they could have done differently. And say what they wish their sibling had done which would have stopped them getting upset.
- Brainstorm solutions. Then you ask them both to think of as many possible solutions as they can. Write down all the things they suggest without judging their ideas. This might include taking turns, dividing a treat (one person divides it and the other one chooses the piece they want.) Playing one game first then the other game for longer. Putting away the thing that’s causing the fuss, whatever it is that they can think of.
- Decide on a solution you can all live with. After that ask the children what solution – or combination of solutions – would work. Can they compromise? Or find a solution they can both live with? Ideally, you’re looking for the win/win solution so that both the children are really happy with the outcome.
- Follow up at an agreed time. Later on, you can check that the solution they decided on is working out.
Parent / Teenager Conflict (also useful for conflict between parents)
When there is a difficult issue to resolve, either with a teenager or another adult, the following steps will help you work through it, with the best possible outcome.
Go through part one and two, before you talk to the other person about the problem.
PART 1. Plan ahead, so you can achieve what you want out of the conversation
- What do you want out of the discussion? How could you achieve the best outcome?
- What would be the mutual purpose of your discussion? (For example, coming up with a solution to a problem)
- What would be the best way to start the conversation? Can we talk about ……? State the problem in a neutral way without implying any blame.
- If you have made a mistake, can you give a sincere apology? What might you need to apologise for?
- Clear up misunderstandings. If the other person makes a comment that implies they are feeling disrespected, stop talking about the main issue, and clear up any misunderstandings. Think of one issue that may get in the way, and what you’d say.
- I don’t want__________ (address the concern that you don’t respect them or want to win at their expense.)
- I do want ____________ (confirm your respect and clarify your real purpose.)
- Plan what you’ll say and how you’ll react if things get out of hand. How will you behave during the conversation to make it more likely to get what you want?
- Use ‘I messages:’ ‘I feel… when… and I’d like…’ rather than ‘you messages:’ ‘You’re so… You are such a…’
- Stay calm, rational and stick to the point.
- If the conflict gets too emotional or physical, be prepared, to walk away. Say ‘Look, things have got a bit heated. Let’s take a break and talk about this later when we’re both calmer.’
PART 2. When you are ready to talk to the other person:
- State the facts. Can you state the facts of the situation first, and then tentatively suggest what you concluded from those facts?
- Listen and empathise. Then say: ‘I’d like to understand your side, could you explain what you feel/think?’
Listen to what they have to say and respect their point of view.
Repeat back what you have heard. Let them correct you if they feel you haven’t understood.
- Apologise if needed: If they get upset, ask why, and what you did to make them feel that way and apologise if appropriate.
- Keep the conversation on track: If they change the subject say: ‘I know that’s important to you and we can talk about that another time, but at the moment I’d like to discuss this.’
- Explain your point of view, clearly and respectfully:
Now ask ‘Is it OK now to explain my side of the problem?’ or ‘Can I just explain my side…?’
- I feel…
- I’d like…
- Collaborate to find solutions: Say ‘Can we just look at some things we could do to sort this out?’
Brainstorm all the different ways you could resolve the problem.
- Negotiate and compromise. ‘Let’s see if we can find a solution that feels good to both of us. A win/ win.’
- Check your understanding of what you both agreed. ‘So, you’ll do this… And I’ll do this… Ok?’
- Finish the conversation with a ‘thank you’, a kind word or a hug (if appropriate.)
A good apology
One final thing that may be very useful is to understand the five steps to a good apology.
- Say you’re sorry, and why: ‘I’m sorry I made you feel angry/upset/disappointed.’
- Accept responsibility: ‘I was wrong to shout at you.’ (Don’t add a but!)
- Ask how to repair the damage: ‘How can I make it up to you?’
- Say what you’ll do differently next time: ‘To stop myself next time, I’ll leave the room, and wait until I’m calmer to talk about it.’
- Ask for forgiveness: ‘Will you forgive me?’
It’s also useful to remember that saying sorry is a sign of strength, not a weakness!
I am a child behaviour expert and parenting specialist. However, I am not a relationship expert. If you are having problems with your partner, and fights or arguments are causing distress to you or your children, please seek help or advice from a relationship counsellor.
You may be in close confinement for a while at home for a while, so now is the perfect time to ease the tensions and sort out arguments. So, family life can be pleasant for all of you during lock-down.
Wishing you all the best!