By Sophie Barcant, BA (Psyc), B.ED.
Trainer, Facilitator, Parenting Coach/Consultant
Conflicts are best resolved when the emotional charges are reduced. Many people prefer to deny their emotions, only to be overpowered by them when found in a situation that triggers them and the eruption ends up being destructive to those around.
The suppressed emotions of the past are stored in the subconscious and erupt when the person is provoked by words or behaviours of others. This is not conducive to having healthy relationships.
We all want to raise our children to have healthy relationships. After all we are happier when relating well with others and distressed when there is division.
When we face a disagreement or a contradiction that has an intense charge for us, our nervous system goes into fight, flight or freeze mode.
In this state, our rational thinking is blocked, and we tend to speak or behave irrationally. Thus, the tendency to think or say hurtful, insulting things to others or to lash out and hit. It is a normal survival behaviour.
The signal is one of danger or threat to our well-being. Early man was created this way to survive the dangers of the times. Sadly, our peace is still threatened, not by sabre-toothed tigers but by our fellow humans who are driven by fear, pain, envy etc.
The very first step in resolving conflict is to gain control over our initial reaction to lash back, not reacting impulsively but choosing to respond in a manner that does not cause harm to others or ourselves.
We need to restore safety by communicating with our attitude or words. We can teach this to children from a very young age. Remember that we learn by imitating others.
Telling your child that their attack or insulting their sibling for grabbing their toy or borrowing their things and not returning them is not the appropriate way to change the unwanted behaviour and to get co-operation.
We all want happiness and maintaining good relationships is one of the ways to be happy. As parents, we must teach our children to express their feelings about the disruptive incident without attack or insult. This is the key to resolving the conflict and paving the way for a behaviour change and resolution.
The offender is far more likely to listen and be understanding when they have been made aware of how their action impacted on the other person’s feelings. Only deeply bitter, hurt, or fearful people show no remorse for the pain they cause others. Also, sometimes those with personality traits like Asperger’s, bipolar or sociopaths etc.
I was totally amazed when I pointed out to an adult relative how their criticism of my child hurt me and how surprised they were that they had hurt me. They were apologetic and never did it again.
Many of us do not realise the effect our behaviour has on other people. It is important to let others know how they make us feel. Children can learn this from a young if they are taught.
The second step is empowering the child to stick up for him or herself. Instead of her calling her brother an idiot or hitting him, teach her the appropriate words and manner to respond.
Coach her to tell her offending brother ‘Stop grabbing my toys, I don’t like it. It makes me mad when you do that. I will let you have it when I am done with it, do you want this other toy instead?’.
We have all taught children how to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Similarly, we can model the exact way to communicate to others when conflict arises.
Many parents think that children will learn these important social skills by sorting out their own differences with their siblings, but studies show that what they may well be learning from conflicting interactions with their siblings is that bullies win and being a victim is unavoidable.
Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman in their book NurtureShock offer clear explanations about this topic.
Dr Laura Markham, parenting expert, tells us that “When parents talk to their children on a daily basis about what everyone in the family feels and needs, siblings become more sensitive and emotionally generous to each other, as well as more likely to understand each other’s point of view. This is true even when children are very young; when mothers talk to their toddlers about what the baby might be feeling, the toddler develops more empathy for the baby and is less jealous.”
Here are some questions Dr Laura suggests we use to help develop awareness needed for more positive communication and interaction among children.
How did it feel? What did you want/need? What did he want/need? How did that work out? How do you think she felt? What might you try to do differently next time? What might happen then?
Raising children to be responsible, successful, happy adults takes effort and conscious parenting. Let’s pay attention to how they talk to each other and model the way that leads to win-win for all.
Stay tuned for next article with guidance on how to deal with telling tales.
For one-to-one coaching on how to deal with sibling conflicts contact Sophie at firstname.lastname@example.org, FB: Sophie’s parenting support.