Friendly Persuasion

One of the hardest things about being a mother was, for me, the fact that my children would argue with each other. These were often not calm disagreements, rather interchanges that escalated in tone and volume until finally I would have to intervene to save my own sanity. Sometimes I would send the children to their rooms. Sometimes I would send them outside. Sometimes we would discuss what was happening and try to problem solve by clarifying who did what and how some resolution could come about. What I didn’t do was give them any clues as to how to resolve disputes in a more productive way,

What I should have done is to sit individually with them and ask them to tell me how they saw the situation and then how they thought their sibling saw it. If they were unable to supply the sibling’s point of view, I should have tried to guess what it was and then ask the child to rephrase it to ensure that the child had heard and understood. Next, I should have asked the child to try and think of what he or she could have done differently in light of what their sibling was thinking and feeling. Could he or she have found some common ground, a compromise, a trade-off?

I should have taught my children that the least likely way to get what you want is by name-calling, yelling, screaming, hitting, kicking, and threats. I should have taught them that a smile, a nod, a real concern for the other and their point of view all go a long way toward resolving a conflict. I should have taught them to find out what the other one really wanted and to see if there was a way that both of them could get what they wanted. I should have taught them that respecting the other person is a prerequisite for coming to a satisfactory resolution. I should have done that not only for my sanity’s sake, but to help facilitate their effectiveness as adults.

I like to think that they learned those skills in part by watching what their parents did. Sometimes, if we are lucky, the message gets through even if we are not consciously transmitting it. However, with all of the anger and pain and violence in the world, actively teaching children the art of conflict resolution might just be a priority.

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  1. I am skeptical about whether teaching children to see the other point of view needs to be the first milestone.

    I believe it is easier and more important for them to achieve the understanding that conflict is something negative – something they want to avoid. I believe that this point, which may seem trivial, is the most important prerequisite for consciously avoiding or resolving conflict.

    I have a process wherein the children listen to their siblings describe the conflicts they had over the week – the conflicts that stick out in their mind. During this stage I do not allow the other children to respond. I make sure only that all the children involved recall the incident. Although the children do not always agree about the details, they usually agree that a conflict did occur. By focusing on complaints of conflicts, the children arrive at a realization that conflict is something negative that effect them all.

    After a few months, when the children had agreed that conflicts were something negative, and all of them wanted ways to prevent and resolve conflict, I added the second stage of the process.

    After hearing a child present a conflict, I encourage each of the children involved to present solutions how each of them could have unilaterally avoided the conflict or prevented the conflict from occuring. For each solution offered, I check with the other child (or children) involved whether they agree that the solution would have been effective. I praise them for finding solutions, and I can usually get each child to present two or three different solutions.

    Using this method, I hope each of them will develop the following awarenesses.

    * Conflict is something I want to avoid
    * I can dissolve conflict by myself
    * My capability to dissolve conflict has nothing to do with right and wrong
    * There is more than one way to resolve conflict
    * I can think of creative ways to dissolve conflict

  2. Well it is obvious from Ben’s response that something Rona did worked really well. We are working in shool on a program called Magic Circle and it implements many of the things you both espouse. Let’s hope that if there are many of us working on conflict resolution with children that the next generation will be better at it than we were. Thanks for the point and counterpoint ala Michelson!