Conflict as Opportunity

I’m happy to share a guest post with you today. Kassandra Brown of Parent Coaching speaks of how conflict can be an opportunity. In addition to sharing her thoughts here concerning how we can turn conflict into a way to both connect and better understand our children and ourselves, Kassandra has a special coaching offer for readers. She is willing to offer three free coaching sessions to the first person who asks. Consultations are always free. If you are looking for a way to change how you communicate and interact with your children, she is willing to help.

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When children disobey parents, parents are often told – by experts and other parents – that a Time Out is the solution. We’re told that our children need consequences. We’re told it’s a good idea, and it will give them time to think about what they’ve done. We’re told if we’re not firm, then we’re permissive and our children will never know discipline.

togetherYet here at Parent Coaching, we have a different opinion. Abandonment is one of the biggest punishments known through human history. To be kicked out of the tribe and made to be away from the protection of the rest of the group is an awful, sometimes fatal, punishment. This is the premise that Time Out is based on. If the fear of being isolated, alone, and ostracized is great enough, then a child will learn whatever rules parents or society say are ‘right’.

Leaving baby alone to cry in a crib, or sending a toddler or older child away in disgrace for a time-out can seem like you’re not doing anything much and it may be better than spanking or hitting. But it is not harmless. It is psychological warfare and adults are much better at it than children. We use the power of more words, longer sentences, and more complex arrangements of our thoughts and feelings into ideas that manipulate better and make isolation sound just. No wonder our children stop listening and pull out big hammers like “I hate you” when they don’t get their way.

I believe most parents want their children to be happy and safe. I believe most parents want to be happy and safe themselves. And I believe the biggest obstacle to being more effective and compassionate with our children is our own unfelt pain. For me, this happens when the unmet needs, the old hurts, and the developmental sequencing that never happened get stimulated by my child’s needs. I don’t like these old hurts being stimulated and I want to make the stimulation stop. My child’s crying, whining, and wailing pleas are the stimulation. If I send my child away the stimulation will stop. Making the parent’s pain stop is another part of the foundation on which Time Out rests.

What can we do instead? Try a Time In. When conflict happens, welcome your own feelings and your child’s feelings by gathering together. Our family often sits on the couch for a Time In. We sit together. Often my children don’t want to come and sit. They still want whatever it is they want – the game, food, or activity that stimulated their longing and that they think will satisfy them. But if I sit quietly, or my husband and I sit together quietly, eventually the girls come over and sit with us.

Once we’re fairly quiet, we take turns talking about how we’re feeling, what we want, and what we just did. I often use reflective listening to let my children and spouse know they are heard and to get clear on what they really wanted me to hear. A Time In is a time to come together and acknowledge the pain we’re feeling when one of us cries or yells. It is a time to share what each of us needs and wants. It is a time that often leads to more feelings of trust and safety in our family. It is not a magic cure-all, but sometimes it feels like one.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Kassandra Brown is a mother, parenting coach, yoga teacher, and friend. She recently moved with her family to a rural ecovillage in Missouri where they are creating a life of radical sustainability and emotional honesty. Three free teleconferencing calls introducing parent coaching will be happening with her this September. You’re invited! Read more of her writing at Parent Coaching’s Blog or connect with her on Facebook.

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Conflict: A Course of Life

Conflict is a course of life, occurring whenever two parties have different agendas or different perceived agendas. What matters is not the conflict itself but how that conflict is resolved.  Parents don’t have to resort to win-lose methods with either the parent or child winning while the other loses. When parents work together with their children, everyone’s needs are met and noone loses. By meeting everyone’s true needs, the conflict ceases to exist rather than escalating in continued attempts to meet the unmet needs.

Pirate Diplomacy

Photo by Tai Gray

It was one of those idealistic parenting moments. I was in the kitchen washing dishes, and all four of my children were happily playing together in the living room.

The game of the moment was a pirate one, and there were plenty of giggles amidst the “Arghs.” In one of my glances, I saw my eight year old wielding a foam sword in perfect form. Another time, my three year old was proclaiming to be the Dread Pirate Roberts (I’ve mentioned we are a family of bibliophiles). The throw pillows morphed into a gang plank and the fish in our aquariums were hungry sharks.

As the climax of the game approached, I heard something that made me pause. “Send in the baby! He won’t harm her.” I had to laugh at my son’s use of diplomacy.

conflict…

Though conflict, we learn to establish healthy boundaries between ourselves and other people. Conflict provides an opportunity for growth and learning. This is true not only for children, but also for ourselves.

coping mechanisms to parental power…

Children’s coping mechanisms to deal with parental power:

  • Resistance, defiance, rebellion, and negativity. People will fight back when their freedom is threatened.
  • Resentment, anger, and hostility. People want to be in control of themself. When others hold power over them, they feel resentful.
  • Aggression, retaliation, and striking back. Parental domination via authority leads to frustration. Frustration in turn can lead toward aggression. If you hurt me, I’ll hurt you. 
  • Lying or hiding feelings. People may lie to avoid punishment. Lying is a learned response and not a normal part of life.
  • Blaming others, tattling, and cheating. When multiple people are competing for rewards or to avoid punishment, they may resort to trying to make others look bad in an attempt to make themselves look good. Punishments and rewards promote competitive behavior ina family rather than cooperation.
  • Dominating, bossiness, and bullying. Children may attempt to dominate smaller or younger children based on the power over behavior modeled by parents.
  • Needing to win and hating to lose. A person may develop a strong desire to win and look good and want to avoid looking bad losing or looking bad. Life becomes a competitive world with the child against everyone else. This is evident in reward-based families where the parents give out positive evaluation including but not limited to money, gold stars, sticker charts, and verbal rewards.
  • Forming alliances and organizing against parents. Children may band together and agree to tell the same story in order to avoid punishment. Instead of identifying with family, where authoritarian parents hold all of the power, children begin to identify instead with same age cohorts dealing with similar power struggles. They may feel pressure to do drugs, have sex before they are ready, skip responsiblities, or participate in illegal activities.
  • Submission, obedience, and compliance. Children may submit out of fear of punishment from parents. For some, this may suddenly switch to resistance and rebellion. Others will retain the intense fear of people in positions of power, passively submitting to authority, denying their own needs, afraid to be themselves, and avoiding conflict.
  • Courting favor. Some people will work to play up the authority figure and become a favorite or pet. They are often targeted by others.
  • Conformity, lack of creativity, fear of attempting anything new, and fear of failure. Creativity comes from a freedom to experiment and to try new things and combinations. The fear resulting from being powered over stifles creativity and results in conformity.
  • Withdrawing, escaping, fantasiing, and regression. A person who quits trying to cope with reality may withdraw in order to escape it. This can be manifested by daydreaming or fantasizing, inactivity, passivity, and apathy, regression to infantile behavior, excessive screen time, solitary play, sickness, running away, joining gangs, eating disorders, and depression.

the no-lose method…

The no-lose method of conflict resolution allows everyone to work together in order to find mutually agreed upon solutions which work for everyone.

First, you must set the stage for how the no-lose method will work:

  1. Begin by telling your child clearly and concisely that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
  2. Make it understood that you wish to work with your child in order to find a solution that is acceptable to everyone.
  3. Agree on a time to work on the problem when there won’t be distractions.

There are six steps to the no-lose method:

  1. Identify and define the problem. During this time, the needs of everyone should be stated. Many times the true problem is different from what we originally perceive it to be. Parents should be conscious not to give solutions instead of defining needs. You should tell your child clearly and as strongly as you feel exactly what feelings you have and what needs of yours are not being met or what is bothering you. I-messages are useful in order to avoid put down messages or blame.  Active listening is a useful tool for distinguishing between needs and possible solutions and to make certain you understand your child’s needs. State the conflict or problem so that everyone agrees what the true issue is.
  2. Generate possible alternative solutions.  This is where brainstorming comes in. Everyone is welcome to offer possible solutions. In fact, parents should encourage their children to offer soultions first. Children are very insightful and may offer solutions that parents had not even considered. Avoid evaluating and showing preference for any solution. At this point in time, you are only brainstorming possibilities.
  3. Evaluate alternative solutions. Figure out what each person is willing to do. Narrow down solutions to one or two best possibilities. Be honest with one another about how you feel regarding each possible solution.
  4. Decide on best acceptable solution. By this point in the process, one solution may clearly stand out from all of the others and be accepted by all involved parties. If not, verbally test out some of the other solutions and see if they would work for everyone. remember that solutions are not final. Life isn’t static. If the tried solution doesn’t work for everyone, reevaluate and change. Multi-part solutions may need to be written down in order to help everyone remember. It should be clear to everyone that they are making a commitment to try the solution.
  5. Work out ways to implement the solution. Discuss the details needed in order to implement the solution and gather any necessary tools.
  6. Follow up to evaluate if the solution worked. Don’t forget to check back with everyone to see if the solution is working. If not, reeveluate and find something that works better for all those involved.

conflict: the no-lose method (part4)…

The no-lose method of conflict resolution allows parents to discover what is really going on with the child. When you use your power to enforce your own solutions, you don’t unveil the true underlying feelings and needs. In order to deal with an issue, you have to know what the real problem is first. Once you have worked with your child to discover the cause of conflict, solutions generally become apparent.

Aspects of the no-lose method of conflict resolution:

  • Both parties possess equal or near equal power. Neither holds power over the other.
  • The solution must be acceptable to both parties. This is  method for finding solutions which work for everyone. This may look completely different in different families or with different individuals.
  • Involves the principle of participation. Individuals are more motivated to carry out decisions when they are involved in the decision making process. Less enforcement is required in order to implement the proposed plan because all parties are vested in the plan and the outcome.
  • Encourages and requires each involved party to think.
  • Results in less hostility from everyone because both parties are agreeing on a mutually acceptable solution. Both parties leave the situation feeling good because the conflict has been taken cre of and no party has lost, ultimately bringing them closer together. 
  • Eliminates the need for power. Both parties are working together toward a solution. There is no need to grapple for power and no need for coping mechanisms to deal with another person’s power. Allows each party to respect themself and the other person, allowing everyone to win.

The no-lose approach to conflict resolution treats children like people. Parents are able to communicate to their children that the children’s needs are important and that the children can also be trusted to be considerate of the parent’s needs.