Our “normal” has shifted gears in the past few weeks. With most of our time spent indoors, we are finding a balance of home maintenance, work, study, and play. At one point, our structure came from outside sources – school hours, office hours, exercise class schedules. Today, we are establishing new routines and creating at-home workspaces. Consequently, disagreements and conflict may feel more frequent. While we would all like to avoid this, conflict can truly bring us closer together as we learn ourselves and our family members better. Here are a few tools that we can all learn and model to decrease conflict at home.
Aim for Win-Win
Your family is in this as a team, and the hope is that you all feel this way! When trying to resolve a disagreement, avoid trying to “win” instead look for the solution that considers all parties. Dr. Stephen Covey says it best, “In the long run, if it isn’t a win for both of us, we both lose. That’s why win-win is the only real alternative in interdependent realities.” But how can we do this? First, avoid harsh language or striking at sensitivities, both of which can be easy to do in the moment. In the pursuit of a happy household, we need to make space to explore all perspectives and for all to feel heard.
Have a Conversation about Roles in the House
Household responsibilities that may have worked last month could seem overwhelming now. Have you noticed a recent surge in dishes and meal preparation, or have you spent extra time ensuring your house is clean? Frustration or resentment can arise if members feel that they are carrying a more significant load than the others, but the most critical step is to bring the conversation up. Unspoken expectations only cause pain for everyone involved. By reworking the responsibilities and focusing on the items that need to be accomplished together, you can create structured chores that feel fair to all.
Use “I” Statements
“I” statements can be a powerful tool to express needs without making the other person feel defensive. Two of my most passionate, fifth-grade students were not seeing eye-to-eye for weeks. One afternoon, the conflict exploded! When I tried to understand the problem, the heated conversation was filled with blame, back story, and criticism. Before one student finished their sentence, the other would speak over him to explain what “really” happened. Together, we sat in silence for a few moments to calm ourselves. They were both instructed to start with “I feel…” and let the other person finish their sentence before responding. Whenever both students had expressed their hurt in a non-defensive way, they were asked to demonstrate they heard the other by saying, “I understand…” and express their need by saying, “I would like…” Admittedly the conversation lasted about thirty minutes; however, seeing the two play together again afterward was significantly more rewarding than seeing them both lose play-time. While it may seem simple, changing your language can alleviate unnecessary tension in a conversation.
Use the Perspective Triangle
Psychologist Aldo Civico encourages the use of the Perspective Triangle. The first perspective to take into consideration is your own. Your emotions have flared, and different thoughts are running through your mind. Dive deep! What are your needs and desires? How have you responded to the situation? Often, the rise in emotion is a more complex thought than the surface of the original disagreement. Now, consider the other person’s perspective in a non-judgemental way. If the conflict is with your family members, you know their life experiences and thought patterns well. How are your actions potentially coming across to them? What other circumstances are they facing, or what have they faced in the past? Practice empathy and allow yourself to see another’s perspective. Finally, consider an outsider’s perspective on the scenario. Remember that you are trying to find a solution to the problem, and a third-party would give unbiased advice to help you two move forward.
From Challenges to Options
By providing children with options, you can encourage the behavior you would like to see while still allowing them to feel in control. This will instill a sense of value, and your child will learn how to choose responsibly. In a time where many of our options have been drastically limited, they will still have the ability to assess their options and learn how to make decisions confidently. Share the action you would like to see and what will happen if not. This does not have to be an intimidating conversation! Consistency and choice are crucial. The key is to give your child multiple “correct” options to choose from. Thus, overriding the self-determination gene that tends to kick in during adolescence. Tell your child you will only remind them once, but make sure you follow through with this statement consistently. They are more likely to follow instructions if they are familiar with the pattern.
Anticipate the Meltdown
If you watch the immediate before and after curiously, you may notice your child usually has a tantrum around the same situation. What may be the underlying need? Are they being asked to manage their behavior for longer than usual? Are they afraid? Are they being asked to complete schoolwork, and is it difficult for them to stay on task and motivated because they have organization and learning difficulties? Consider a few ways that you can set them up for success. Since each child is different, this could mean a variety of things. Maybe they need extra warnings to know that the activity will soon change, or maybe they need help dividing their schoolwork into manageable chunks. Tantrums and meltdowns are learned behaviors; however, they arise when a child has yet to develop the skills to express what he or she would like to do at that moment. Just as adults cannot reason well during the midst of high emotion, neither can children. Best practices show that we must model the appropriate behavior by remaining calm and not giving in to the desired action. When both of you are calm, use precise and concrete language to explain the desired behavior and praise your child’s efforts when you see them.
While we are all adjusting to this turbulent time, let us practice forgiveness and learn ways to communicate effectively. Times of distress are often unique opportunities for growth. Students and parents alike have a chance to practice their impression management skills at home, as new conflicts arise. For more tips like these, check out our other blogs or head over to our services page to apply for a one-on-one academic coach.