Conflict resolution is HARD for me. In early adulthood, I tackled conflict with enough gusto to knock down an entire friend group. As I grew and matured, however, I somehow swung toward the opposite end of the pendulum. I suddenly started to struggle with confronting people at all, even when it was really important, because I was afraid of being a bulldozer. Instead, I built a habit of shoving my frustrations and hurt feelings down into my heart where they were left to either fester or die… all in the name of being “selfless” in friendships.
Doesn’t sound very healthy, does it? Even to my own ears, it doesn’t.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I made it my mission to teach my daughter how to express her feelings tactfully without gaining a fear of being honest. I never wanted her to overrun the people around her, but I also didn’t want her to think that being a good person meant never expressing discontentment or frustration. I wanted her to find her voice and feel confident enough to speak it.
She is definitely still afraid of sharing her opinion outside of the home, but I think that has more to do with how her friends/teachers/coaches have responded to her sharing her opinion than it does with how she was raised. We still talk about it when she gets home, and we try to problem solve new ways to gain the courage to speak up. But for the most part, that’s a battle she has to fight on her own.
Within the walls of our home, however, this girl is amazing at sharing her emotions the moment she feels them without making others feel small. She’s honest without being too direct. She’s gentle without beating around the bush.
She’s one of the laziest kids I’ve ever met, but by golly, she can resolve conflicts with her sister. (If we’re going to take credit for the good habits our kids have, we have to take credit for the bad habits they have, too. She’s lazy because I allow her to be, but she practices healthy conflict resolution because I’ve taught her how to.)
Here’s what it looks like when my daughter resolves conflict on her own:
1) If she feels comfortable enough with the person, she’ll stop them right away to tell them what’s wrong. If she can’t, she knows how to take time to herself to make a plan and then come back to the issue.
2) She makes eye contact with them–which is really difficult for her in settings that are not comfortable to her–and then she identifies the behavior that was hurtful to her. She also identifies the way she feels with an actual label.
An example of this would be, “[Name], you took that game piece out of my hand. That made me feel like you care about this game more than you care about me.”
Yeah, she totally says sentences like that. The only tools they have in their toolbox are the ones you teach them. If they hear you use phrases that are direct and labelling, they’ll know how to use them on their own. The more they hear them, and the more they use them, the more naturally they’ll flow out.
3) She only reaches out for help if:
– she tries handling it on her own, but the person doesn’t respond.
– she feels like someone is being unsafe.
4) She listens to their response and makes a decision accordingly. She is so gentle in how she speaks, but she’s direct. Directness seems to be an incomprehensible concept for a lot of girls because society has taught them that directness makes them rude. However, it’s important to be straight to the point when talking to someone about an interaction you’ve had. Anything less will either complicate the situation or drag it out.
5) At the end of the conversation, she reminds them that if they continue their hurtful behavior in the future, it will affect their relationship. She often says things to her sister like, “If you keep breaking my Lego sets, I’m not going to want to spend as much time with you. When you’re mean to people, it makes them not want to hang out with you.”
She’s so wise it’s stupid. But again, it’s all about teaching them the words to say and helping them understand their own feelings.
The most important thing you can do as a parent is to lead by example. Confrontation is no different. They’ll see you go through it eventually, especially if you have a spouse in the home, so it’s crucial for them to see you do it well.
You can even talk to them about your confrontation after it’s over. They don’t need to know all the details, but you can point out what you said and why it was important.
And then the next time they start screaming at their sibling, take the opportunity to stop them and show them how they could handle the situation differently.
Say something like, “Hang on. Remember that when we use an angry voice, people can’t understand us. Try using your gentle voice instead.”
When they say okay, you can ask them what happened that made them upset.
When they tell you, ask them how it made them feel. Give them some suggestions if they need it. Sad, angry, disappointed, jealous, etc.
Then help them put all of that into a sentence. “When you did [BLANK], it made me feel [BLANK].” Have them repeat it to their sibling using a calm voice.
Then the next time they get into a similar situation, you might be able to skip the explanation step and go straight into saying, “Remember to say, ‘When you…’ And tell them how you felt.”
Eventually, you can just say, “Gentle voice, please,” and they’ll know what you mean.
You can do it, parents!