“He said…” “She said…” “He did…” “She did…” “MOM…” “DAD…”: familiar sounds of a household with children; as normal as, Monday comes after Sunday.
It happens weekly, daily, hourly, half-hourly, and sometimes, all day long. Relationships bring with them conflict. Now, there are those members of each family who seek peace at any cost. These are those born with the innate ability to squelch conflict and compromise. Unfortunately, most individuals are not of this persuasion. Peace comes far less easy and conflict surrounds many situations and daily activities. Children are born with needs and desires and they learn early to strive to meet those needs and desires. Regrettably, it doesn’t take long for one child to find other children, with different needs and desires, who are also striving to satisfy themselves, resulting in conflict. Sparks erupt, voices heighten, power is exerted, and little ones are helpless to find a solution. They must be taught and learn how to deal with their needs and wants in situations where they are not the only participant. The earlier parents begin the process of teaching conflict resolution, the better for children. After all, conflicts do not end in childhood; they are a part of every relationship one will ever encounter.
Most humans long for peace. It is visualized and worked towards in homes, communities, and nations. Conflict is not sought after. Most would like to ignore it or run from it. Truth be told, running from conflict delays the healing process that needs to occur to make a relationship healthy again. Those who don’t run, most naturally, attack or fight when conflict occurs. Just as running doesn’t solve the problem, attacking can further damage the relationship and deepen the problem. Even though, peace is preferred, natural human tendencies of running or attacking, escalate the problem and dump relationships with more hurt and conflict, far from a peaceful solution. So how can peace be found inside of human relationships? Only in working through and working out conflict. Conflict will occur at every age and stage of life and learning conflict resolution breeds healthier relationships and yields more peaceful lives.
Karen Stephens, director of Illinois State University Child Care Center and instructor in child development for the ISU Family and Consumer Sciences Department states, “If respectful conflict resolution isn’t mastered during early childhood, the skills are much harder to learn; they rarely become second-nature to an adult. The consequence is reflected by domestic violence and assault crimes that shatter our neighborhoods.”
She further states, “In each developmental stage, children gradually expand their capacity to balance their personal rights, needs, and wants with those of others. As children learn to do that, they develop constructive social skills as well as their own character. Key to teaching children to handle conflict is helping them identify their emotions. They must also, (and this is the hardest part!) learn to control how they express and act on their emotions. To become socially responsible, it’s critical that children exercise choice and decision-making power over their behavior.” (http://www.oh-pin.org/articles/pex-01-teaching-children-to-reso.pdf , accessed March 2009)
Learning communication skills is key to healthy conflict resolution. Teaching children from a young age, to describe and talk about their feelings helps them learn to identify emotions that sometimes can overwhelm them. Start in infancy putting words to emotions for children: “I know you get upset when I change your diaper. Mommy will be finished in just a minute.” Good communication cannot exist aside from understanding emotions. Knowing what and why feelings occur brings understanding and a sense of security when conflict arises. What is happening inside can be identified and communicated.
Listening is the next step. Learning to listen is essential to communication. Otherwise, there will be a one way conversation; which by definition is not a conversation. Teaching children to care about others’ emotions and thoughts will lend toward listening. Truly identifying where the conflict lies is often times a solution in itself and that can only be found when there is reciprocal talking and listening by the two parties. Mirroring is a simple psychiatric tool that any human can learn and adds volumes to effective communication.
Mirroring basically consists of listening and paraphrasing. For example, after listening to another’s explanation, the listener would say, “What I hear you saying is…” restated in his own words. This at its essence lets the other person know, they were really listened to and it then gives an opportunity for clarification. If the listener did not perceive correctly what the speaker was trying to communicate, there is now another chance for the speaker to explain. This has an added benefit of putting the focus on understanding each other and moves the process of resolution along.
There must be some ground rules for resolving conflicts. Do Not Touch Rule; conflicts must be free of physical touching. This allows for physical safety and each party can proceed feeling secure from personal harm. No Name Calling Rule; parties must be addressed by their proper names. Calling names fuels the fires of anger and hurt and can lead to other conflicts. No Screaming or Shouting Rule (self-explanatory); calm voices. No Put-Downs Rule; belittling or intentionally trying to retaliate verbally, intensifies any problem. Using Compromise Rule; life is not all about “me”. Children must be taught other people have different opinions and priorities. Everything does not have to happen “their way”. There are lots of different ways to accomplish the same goals. Apologize Rule; “many children, and adults as well, need to learn the art of the apology. And not the forced apology, but the kind of apology where you know you mean it. Help children understand how their behavior has an effect on the other person.” (http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/26782/conflict_resolution_teaching_peace.html?cat=4, accessed March 2009)
Good Character.Com offers a simple outline for teaching children conflict resolution.
1. STOP . . . before you lose control of your temper and make the conflict worse.
2. SAY . . . what you feel is the problem. What is causing the disagreement? What do you want? 3. LISTEN . . . to the other person's ideas and feelings. 4. THINK . . .of solutions that will satisfy both of you. If you still can't agree, ask someone else to help you work it out. (http://www.goodcharacter.com/GROARK/Conflicts.html, accessed March 2009)
This world will never be conflict free, but parents can raise peaceable children; those who have the tools and skills to reach peaceful solutions in the midst of life conflicts. In so doing, parents will not just create homes where peace abounds, but boost their children into mature relationships where peace can be attained through resolution and compromise. Innate peacemakers are rare, but one can be formed where parents are dedicated to equipping their children to deal with conflict. Blessed are the peacemakers.