Conflict can be a good thing. Have I lost my marbles – maybe, but not about this.
I don't know many people who like conflict (There's always the exception, but they probably prove the rule), but it isn't always a bad thing. We're not going to agree with everyone, but how do we do that respectfully if we were never taught?
There will be times when someone has upset us or overstepped our boundaries or our expectations. We have three choices in those scenarios. We say nothing and retreat for a bit. We have a bit of a blow out, or we talk it through. I suspect the last one is the last option. De-friending is a popular choice these days. Look at Brexit too - a prime example of some people unable to express themselves without getting personal. Friendships and families were divided. I also know couples who don’t know how to resolve because they've never learned how. Let's teach our children that variance can end well. It can even be peaceful.
My closest friendships are not the ones with whom I've never disagreed. They're the ones where we've dared to talk about the uncomfortable stuff; when we've felt let down by the other. They're hard moments, but they're also like knots in a tree; stronger for the experience. Trust is built in these places. When we survive conflict we realise that just because we disagree with someone doesn't mean that we will get rejected. The best way to learn this is through experience, preferably during childhood where there are some safety measures in place.
There are really only three types of conflict in the home:
When a child wants something we don't want them to have
When they are refusing to uphold a boundary or expectation we have set.
When they're at odds with a sibling or another person for either of the above reasons.
Firstly, let's look at sibling conflict.
It’s hard to imagine that a sibling fall-out has anything good about it. But evidence says it does. In fact, research shows that children who fight together are more likely to have good relationships later. I’m seeing that first hand now with our own children and those of our friends. Conflict can actually be developmental.
The dictionary definition is ‘to be at variance’. Not all conflict is disastrous or leads to permanent estrangement.
If we take conflict out of family life we’re sending the message that conflict is a terrible thing. But without it, how do we learn to resolve conflict? Over the next few blogs we’re going to look at ways to live with conflict respectfully.
Making peace, not faking peace.
Our first temptation was usually to wade in. I know we're not alone in that. "Come on now, it can't be that bad, stop that racket, give that back to him/her, go to your rooms,' are easy ways to end the noise. But they're a short term solution. We learned over the years that we could dare to stand back a little more and allow them to come to their own solutions and not umpire every fight. It’s natural to want harmony in the home, but sometimes it’s fake. Just because we’ve persuaded them to drop it doesn’t meant anything’s been resolved.
Defining the ring
However, if we do permit them to resolve, it's helpful to set some limits. Even boxing matches have a ring. Setting limits around behavior and language is our proverbial ring. These will depend on their ages. Ours went a bit like this.
When they were small:
Don’t label (e.g: you’re an idiot.)
Don’t resolve physically
As they got older we were able to add other boundaries:
Don't call someone a liar
You can disagree, but don't rubbish another person's perspective.
If the argument is upsetting others, take it to another space. (the garden, the hallway).
That's quite a few negatives, you might say. That's true. But the point of negatives, once you've defined them, is that everything else is permissible. They're just the fenced off options. You might have different ones, or some that we haven’t thought of. The important thing is that what you set in place reflects the culture of your home.
Making a mental note of how long they've been disputing can be helpful. If they’re still going at it hammer and tongs after 20 minutes, the chances are they need a break and they may need some mediation.
In the next blog, we’ll look at just that - how to mediate (objectively!)