The way we communicate with our children, both in good times and difficult times, sets up a pattern that will follow them most of their lives. So it is in our best interest to communicate with them and deal with conflict in the most effective way possible. Effective both in how we resolve the conflict in the moment, as well as the long term effects that we are creating.
The environment that a child is immersed in as they grow and develop profoundly affects the way they see the world. It informs them about what their place in society is, and how they deserve to be treated by others.
When a moment of conflict occurs between you and your child it can be a source of pain, stress and distancing between the two of you. Or it can be an opportunity for teaching, growth and actually bringing you closer together.
#1 – Re-defining the Role of the Parent
The way it goes is largely dependent upon the perception you have of your role as a parent. It is so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day stresses of life and forget we are responsible for creating a foundation for our children to be successful and happy as they grow into adults.
Controlling and modifying their behaviour is not the main goal in parenting. That is an old school idea that was created when children were supposed to be “seen and not heard”. Kids were property; they were not generally seen as precious little humans. Let alone brilliant spiritual beings.
This created an authoritative model of parenting where the kids had to obey the parent, be quiet, act respectful and not get in the way. They certainly didn’t have an equal voice in the family.
Re-defining the role of the parent as a guide, an educator, a foundation builder and a source of inspiration brings a whole new view to the family dynamic and by extension on how to deal with conflicts.
If You Don’t Control Them, They’ll Control You
The common view on how to deal with an argument is that as the parent you have to win this argument or at least not allow your child to control you.
If they win the argument, or if you soften your position and allow them to dominate then they will get the idea that they can control you anytime they want. Be firm, be consistent and make sure they know who is in charge.
I profoundly disagree with this perspective.
Your Family Is a Community
The way we structure family should be after our ideal concept of community.
Do you feel like you have a concept of an ideal community?
Well I highly advise it. It is something worth thinking about because it forces you to create a philosophy of how you want to live with yourself and other people. If you can work at creating the conditions in your family that match the concept of your ideal community then you will soon find amazing transformation happening in your home.
You will find a greater joy and harmony in your family than you ever imagined.
And it won’t be an accident, it won’t be because your individual personalities just happened to get along. It will be because of the work you and your family do in order to coexist in harmony and in the upliftment of each other.
Conflict Resolution Is Vital To Community
Part of any really solid community is their ability to deal with conflict.
Conflict, disagreement and arguments can lead to growth or it can lead to destruction.
When two people have a disagreement, the way they deal with that disagreement makes a huge difference in their relationship. It also affects everyone else in the community.
Even when we have a disagreement about something as small as doing dishes or the arrangement of furniture in your bedroom or picking up your socks from the floor, it’s not really about those things.
There are always deeper levels to each issue.
There are always things under the surface that make situations difficult.
If we pay attention to them and work with them intelligently,
they can also make situations glorious!
Looking Beneath the Surface
The thing is how much attention do we pay to what is going on beneath the surface of things?
This is really where we must focus our attention if we want to learn to deal with conflicts with our kids and in our families effectively.
It may not be natural for us to always be looking under the surface when we are dealing with people. And yet this is a vital skill to develop. For when we are dealing with the surface we can only have an effect upon the surface. But if we look to the core, we can affect the core.
And this is one of the key elements in effective and long-lasting conflict resolution.
To get at the core of things.
If we keep practicing looking deeper we can make it a habit.
When this happens you will no longer be instantly affected by impending conflict with your kids. You will see the issues that are brewing and address them with love. This will often stop a conflict before it has time to begin.
#2 – Laying a Foundation
One of the things I am suggesting is to create an environment conducive to peaceful conflict resolution from the beginning. This will cause you to have minimal conflict in your family, and be prepared to deal with it well when it does occur. This work is done before any arguments even happen.
In fact it is often the work you do together between any moments of conflict that sets up how things go when conflict does arise. I would call this laying down a foundation.
A Communication Foundation
A Relational Foundation
A Practical Foundation
Once these different foundations are laid, when a difficult time does come around there is something in place to deal with it, to buffer it.
Create a Love Buffer
In chemistry a buffer is a solution that resists change when an acid is poured into it. If you pour hydrochloric acid into water it becomes very acidic. If you pour hydrochloric acid into a buffer solution the buffer absorbs the acid, not allowing it to make the water acidic. When the acid is poured in, it does have an immediate effect, but the buffer soon absorbs it and the long term effect is very small.
Creating a buffer in your family is much the same thing. If you have a consistent habit of treating each other well, building trust, listening and respecting each other and if your kids feel real confidence in you then you have created a Buffer. When the acid of conflict is poured into the solution of your family, this buffer of love you have will absorb it and it will have very little long term effect.
This means that you cannot take any moment for granted because every interaction you have is affecting how you will deal with difficult situations in the future. Paying deep attention becomes standard operating procedure.
#3 – Building Trust
So far we have looked at re-defining the role of the parent. Seeing conflict as an opportunity for learning, growth and the enhancement of your relationship with your kid.
We have looked at creating an atmosphere of respect, communication, trust and love with each other in your normal interactions, day to day. Setting a foundation for dealing with conflict when it does occur.
Another aspect of dealing with conflict in the family is building trust. I know I mentioned it earlier as part of creating the foundation, but it’s so important that it needs its own section.
Believing in the good intentions of the other makes a huge difference to how open we are to resolving a conflict. Most kids and teenagers that I know do not inherently trust their parents to have good intentions. It takes a lot of work to make this a reality.
Traditional Parenting Does Not Inspire Trust From Our Kids
This should not come as a surprise to you if you think about it at all. If you spend a lot of time with somebody and you feel that there is a good chance they will block your desires or that they will try to control your decisions, your actions and your freedom, it is hard to really trust their intentions.
So when faced with this person telling you they want to resolve the conflict
it’s very likely the average teenager will instead think:
“They want to talk to me so they can get their way.”
“They want to talk to me so that I will see that I’m wrong.”
“They want to talk to me so that they can express their disapproval.”
or on the more extreme end
“They want to give me a consequence or punishment.”
But regardless of how extreme or how gentle is the control, the control is the point. The kid who experiences this, and most of us went through that ourselves, loses a certain trust in their parents intentions. And to be honest this lack of trust isn’t completely unfounded.
Becoming Trustable Is a Priority
So one of the major pieces of work we have to do is to live our lives in such a way that we are very trustable to our kids. We want to create a condition so that when we say we want to resolve a conflict their response is,
“Oh that means I’m going to be okay.”
We want them to feel that when you say you’re going to resolve a conflict that they know they will feel uplifted by that experience, that they can trust you to take their needs into account being as important, if not more important than your own.
How different this is from the traditional expression of conflict in the family. If they can trust you with these things they can relax into the process of conflict resolution. They can relax in the process of developing relationship with you. They can relax even into their own negative feelings so that they don’t explode, but have a healthy and safe place to be expressed.
When we can acknowledge and feel safe with our feelings that’s when we can really get into the heart of conflict.
Create An Atmosphere Of Trust
It is up to the parents to create that atmosphere of trust for their kids.Our kids naturally want to trust us and they want to be trustable. It’s us that have learned manipulation as survival method over the years.
Then we pass that on to our kids…
“Thank you very much for the gift mom and dad. I appreciate it!”
Let Go of Manipulation and Control
The only way not to pass along the idea of manipulation to our kids is to not manipulate our kids. That doesn’t sound like a very complicated concept and yet you would think I was speaking a foreign language a lot of the time when I share this idea with other people.
It seems really insane to people to share responsibility, to share authority, to share ownership and to share respect with their kids. Sharing respect means it has to be earned (by you) not expected.
Expected respect is no respect at all.
How Trustable Can You Be?
So that’s number 3 – being trustable. Proving that you’re trustable. Demonstrating that you are trustable over and over and over. Demonstrate it in the most difficult of situations and the most tense moments.
When your own emotions are boiling over, ready to explode can you demonstrate how trustable you are to your child? Can you rise above the very things that are trying to control you and have been all your life? They were implanted into you when you were a child and now the wounds of your own childhood are inhibiting you from being open, free and trusting with your own child.
Parenting is a Hero’s Journey
It is like a hero’s journey. Honestly parenting is a hero’s journey because we have to overcome all of our history to be fully present, accepting, open and loving with our children now.
#4 – Relational Well-Being
We have been talking about being trustable. We will now look at the wider implications of that.
Being trustable is one aspect of the larger concept of relational well-being.
Relational well-being is caring for the health of your relationship between you and your child. Of course we care about our relationship in general, but we don’t always base our decisions on how it will affect that relationship.
We are more likely to base them on behaviours, manners, rules and (if we’re honest) our own emotional response.
And yet the way we relate to our kids, the love, respect, safety and freedom, as well as the trust we develop, affects how open they will be to our guidance and influence. This means making the relationship between you and your child a major priority in your parenting decisions.
Look For Every Opportunity To Deepen Your Relationship
When you have a priority of developing your relationship with your kid then a lot of things that we’re used to doing have to change. The key is to make all your day to day interactions relationship focused rather than task or obedience focused.
For example, saying no to your kids on a regular basis is damaging to your relationship. Every time we say no to our kids it pushes them just a little farther away. It lets them know that we believe we have authority over them. As parents we can get so used to saying no that it becomes a habit.
If we can monitor how often we say no, and only say it when it’s really necessary then our kids feel we really support and accept them. The more we create an atmosphere of YES the more they will feel our respect rather than our authority.
An Attitude Of Authority Creates Distance Between You
How can one have a free and open relationship with somebody who has authority over them? There are always going to be bits of ourselves held back. I realize that in life there we always keep pieces of ourselves from others, but in the closest relationships there is lot less held back. I believe this is a desirable state to have with your kids, that they feel they can really be themselves with you.
So I encourage you to start to make a habit out of saying yes. I have written an article about the difficulties and benefits of saying yes. I recommend when you finish this article popping over there and reading that one on my blog because a lot of questions about saying yes are answered in that article.
But generally I want to encourage you to look for all the times that you can say yes to your kid that aren’t going to kill you or them. There’s always a reason to say no, but if we resist the temptation we can bring a transformation to our families.
I’ll give you a really good example:
Your kid comes to you and says “I don’t want to brush my teeth tonight, is that okay?”
How can you reasonably say yes to something like that?
They have to take care of their teeth. It has to become a habit. If we say yes then two days and three days and five days will go by and they won’t brush their teeth. It’s going to cost me money if anything happens to their teeth. So there are lots of good reasons to say no.
When we put our relationship with our children as a priority, the difficulty is all those other reasons have to become a secondary priority. All of them.
This is what I mean when I say it is very difficult.
If your kid comes to you and says I don’t want to brush my teeth and anything else is a priority before your relationship you can say “No you gotta brush your teeth.”
Your Response Changes When Your Focus In On Relationship
But if your focus, your priority is on your relationship then you need to say “Yes, it’s okay.”
Because they’re asking for autonomy over their own bodies.
They are asking for you to trust them and to believe in their decisions.
And if you say “NO, you don’t have autonomy over your body. NO, you don’t have that freedom and you don’t have my trust.” then there is significant damage done to how they view you and how free they can be with you.
When I was a kid there were times I didn’t want to brush my teeth and my parents always made me. So just stop asking them. I would go to the bathroom and fake brush. I knew they would check up on me so I would wet my tooth brush and smear toothpaste on my mouth so I would smell of it. And I didn’t brush my teeth. There were times weeks would go by and I wouldn’t brush my teeth.
Freedom Teaches Lessons And Creates Responsibility
It would have been better to have given autonomy over my body and at the same time taught me about the importance of brushing my teeth. Include acknowledging and accepting that there are times I didn’t want to brush my teeth, I wouldn’t have gone weeks without brushing my teeth. I would have missed the occasional day.
It is because I never learned those lessons, because I didn’t develop the ability to self-monitor, and because I was rebelling against the imposition on my freedom that caused me to not brush my teeth for so long.
True freedom, true independence and true respect can only be created in an atmosphere of freedom. So look for all the ways you can create this atmosphere of freedom in your family.
One of the primary ways is to become yes focused. When you are looking for ways to say yes and opportunities to say yes then your mindset changes, their mind set changes and the whole energy in your family will change.
Just to be clear, because it always comes up when I talk about saying yes, it’s a good thing to say no when your child is about to eat poison, run into a busy street, touch a hot stove or any number of Danger situations. It’s also sometimes necessary to say no when unavoidable scheduling issues arise. Like you have to get to work or you’ll lose your job.
It’s just that these moments are in the vast minority of our total interactions.
The rest of the time there are so many opportunities to say yes.
I hope these ideas will be helpful to you.
I honestly suggest trying them, even if they’re very different from how you already parent.
Try them for a short while and see if any results come.
Conscious Conflict Resolution Brings A Family Together
Wouldn’t it be lovely to reduce the amount of arguments that you have?
Wouldn’t it be lovely if moments of conflict brought you closer to your kids?
Wouldn’t be lovely to be best friends with your kids and they respected you and trusted your wisdom? That sounds like a pretty damn good combination to me.
I invite you to come and read more about these kinds of positive, involved, life skills and relationship building ideas that I call conscious parenting on my blog. I am sure you can find something meaningful to you. www.meaningfulideas.com
I wish you all the best on your parenting journey.