Resolving Family Conflicts

Here It Comes! It's the Problem-Solving Process!

The six-step problem-solving process I'm about to describe applies the talking and listening techniques we've looked at all throughout this book. This process can be done one-on-one with your child, or in a group—for instance, at a family meeting. The problem-solving process's main purpose is to resolve problems and conflicts, but it's more than that—it's a disciplinary technique in that it teaches respect, empathy, logic, and empowers a child by using him as a collaborator on his own problems. Once your child has been through a problem-solving process a couple of times, he'll have had experience in thinking seriously about a problem, applying logic and creativity, arriving at solutions, and acting respectfully and responsibly throughout the process.

  • Step 1. Understand the child's perspective. It's time to define the problem as your child sees it. Use active listening. As you paraphrase what your child has said, make sure to include his feelings as well as his words. Allow him to clarify and correct you. “Jerome, you're upset and angry because Dad and I don't want you to wear your fatigues to school. You say that fatigues are comfortable, that all the other kids wear them, and that we're interfering in your individuality. You also think we are hypocrites, because we've always said we don't believe in school uniforms and dress codes. Now you feel let down and betrayed.” Don't jump in with your own opinions, judgments, advice, criticisms, or analysis. You'll have an opportunity to put in your own two cents later.
It's a Good Idea!

As a parent, one of your primary roles in the problem-solving process is as an active listener. Your child probably has more answers to his problems than he knows. Kids are smart. If you listen hard enough, they may just give you the answers you, and they, need.

  • Step 2. Empathize. Let Jerome know that you understand the problem. “My mother let me wear anything I wanted to school. That is, until I bought a skirt I loved, but that she thought was way too short. Bam, she was back to being the boss! I was furious.” Don't go on and on, here. This isn't about you and the miniskirt, this is about Jerome and the fatigues. Step two is simply so Jerome knows you understand his feelings and his point of view.
  • Step 3. Express your own feelings and opinions. Here it comes—it's your turn now! As you express your feelings and opinions, follow the general tips for resolving conflict, above, including using “I” statements. Keep blame far, far away. “Jerome, I'm concerned about you wearing fatigues to school for a few reasons. One, I know a lot of the third and fourth graders are wearing fatigues and playing war games—throwing fake grenades, forming commando units, shooting, and I don't support that. The teachers held a meeting with the principal to express their concerns that the fatigues are helping create an environment that celebrates war, and I agree. As you know, we've never allowed pretend shooting or toy guns in this house. Also, I understand there have been some problems with kids getting upset because they don't have fatigues. I'm not interested in squashing your creativity or individuality, but I am feeling very concerned and distressed.”
  • Step 4. Hold a brainstorming session to find potential solutions. As you brainstorm ideas, let the ideas flow free but avoid the phrases “You should,” “I would,” “I think,” and “If you ask my advice.” (Nobody is asking you your advice.) You and Jerome might come up with (in our example): “Jerome gets to wear a fatigue top or bottom, but not both,” “Jerome can wear his fatigues once a week,” “Jerome burns his fatigues and starts wearing only tie-dye,” and “Jerome drops out of school and joins the army!” Remember that no idea should be evaluated, judged as silly, or squelched as they are coming out.
  • Step 5. Evaluate the ideas and decide on a trial solution. “Jerome will wear his fatigues once a week, as long as he isn't participating in war games.” After you evaluate the brainstorming ideas, agree on a trial solution, think about the four ways of resolving conflict, and try not to compromise, give in, or win. Most problems do have a solution—and your creative brainstorming session may well provide a surprising, and wonderful, answer.
  • Step 6. Follow up. Put the idea to work, and see how it goes. Then follow up! Check back in with your kid after a couple of days or a week to see how the idea is working out. Is it working? Is it too early to tell? Or is it back to the drawing board?

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Well-Behaved Child © 1999 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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