Recently, there seems to be a pattern among the families that I have been working with as a therapist. The pattern starts by the child acting rude and disrespectful. The parent then gets offended and upset and eventually sends the child to their room. Afterwards, nothing is really talked about or resolved between the parent and the child related to the situation that occurred.
After a while of following this pattern, kids stop liking being around their parents and the parents are tired of being around such disrespectful and ungrateful children. The environment becomes contaminated with the feelings of apathy and separateness. There is little motivation to be helpful to one another and the theme of the home is generally uneasy and fraught by underlying resentment.
Sad as it is, many families get caught up in this pattern and don’t know how to change it. Then, after months or even years of conflict, some parents eventually seek help. This is often the point where I get involved with the family.
As I meet with parents and they share with me about their situation, it becomes apparent that, in many cases, the family doesn’t know how to resolve conflicts and they have gotten to a point where they feel everything they do or try makes things worse.
In efforts to explain what families can do in such situations, it is important to remember that conflict comes up and is a normal part of all close relationships. Conflict is usually the result of competing wants. The parent wants the child’s room clean, but the child wants to play video games or go out and play. The parent wants the child to do their homework, but the child would rather text his or her friends. The parent would like the child to clean up after themselves, do chores, get good grades, etc. while the child would usually rather do those things that are fun or entertaining.
Obviously, it would not be good for a child to only do those things that are fun and entertaining. Therefore, it is necessary for the parent to set limits regarding play time and work time in order to help the child learn how to do things that are productive. Thus conflict is created.
Since conflict is a normal and healthy part of relationships, why is it that families come to me paralyzed by high levels of conflict? The answer is because they don’t know how to resolve the conflict, so it stays unresolved until it gets bigger and bigger until eventually someone explodes or falls apart.
So what needs to happen in order to stop the cycle of unresolved conflict? It’s simple – the conflict needs to be resolved. Now, when I say it’s simple, what I mean is the understanding that the conflict needs to be resolved is a simple concept to understand and agree with; however, how to do it can be more complicated. Also, it is difficult to explain in writing because so much of repairing relationships and resolving conflict has to do with our body language more than it has to do with the words we use. Our tone, our posture, our approachability, the expression on our face and in our eyes, speaks so much more to our kids than the words we say. I can tell you the words to use; however, if the tone of your voice or the look on your face sends the message “what is wrong with you” or “how come you just can’t seem to get with the program,” then it doesn’t matter the words you use because they won’t work!
More than the exact words, the soft and inviting expression on your face, the eagerness to understand and be supportive, and your non-threatening body language can open up the environment for a resolution to the conflict.
Some parents reach out to their kids or go into their rooms and sit with them on their bed and ask their child what is going on with them or talk about the emotions that were felt in the situation. This is not a time for parents to reiterate why the parent is correct and that the child made a mistake. This is the time to slow down and connect before any correction is mentioned. It is a time for parents to remember that kids make mistakes and if parents can handle this moment well, then the mistake can become a great learning opportunity for the child rather than obstacles that get between them in their relationship.
Some points to remember when resolving conflict in relationships include:
- The closer to the time the conflict occurred the better (as long as both individuals are open or can become open to the resolution)
- Body language is more important than the words we say
- Have an eager concern for our child and their emotions
- Mistakes can become wonderful learning opportunities
- Now is not the time to continue to explain what the child did wrong, it is the time to connect
- Effective discipline leads to the relationship becoming stronger rather than weaker
- Being supportive and connecting doesn’t mean giving in and not holding kids accountable
As parents respond to conflicts in their relationships with their children by connecting and coming to a resolution after conflicts occur, parent will feel more capable and more optimistic about their kids and their kids will feel better about their parents and feel more secure in life.
For more information about how to resolve conflicts between parents and children, or to see how conflicts can be resolved, check out the Love and Logic classes taught at the Arizona Family Institute in Mesa, Arizona.