How to Deal with Conflict in Your Family

Rules for Parents, Partners, and Kids for Having a Fair Fight

Disagreeing is part of life, but it can get ugly sometimes! Here are some tips to help you deal with conflict in a productive and goal-oriented manner.

  1. Take a time-out! Nothing gets solved when tempers are hot, so take a few moments to calm down before continuing the discussion.
  2. No name-calling or hurtful language! Name-calling only leads to hurt feelings and resentment, so try to stay away from that sort of thing.
  3. Keep it respectful! Even if you don’t completely agree with someone’s point of view, make sure to show them respect for their opinion.
  4. Have an open mind! Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and you might learn something new by listening to what the other person has to say.
  5. Stick to the issue at hand! It’s easy to get sidetracked in a debate, but it helps to stay focused on the issue at hand.
  6. Always compromise! Yield your position once in a while – compromising can help keep the peace and ensure that everyone’s needs are met.
  7. Laugh it off! If all else fails, remember that laughter is one of the best medicines. Laughter helps lighten the mood and can even help resolve conflicts that seem impossible to solve.

When Upset, Sound Upset

Don’t yell or whisper, use a regular volume when speaking. Don’t try to cover up how you are feeling, let your body and tone convey that you are angry. You want to role model for your child how to deal with anger. Show that it’s okay to be angry, but to be in control. Be straightforward and assertive.

Say How You Feel

Tell the person you are angry, sad, disappointed, etc. Make sure you pay attention to your body. If you‘re crying and talking quietly, you might not be angry but feeling hurt. If you are throwing things around or stomping about, and then say you aren’t upset, then you are modeling how to be passive-aggressive. Take stock of your emotional reaction and identify what you are experiencing, so your child can learn how to do the same.

Don’t Name Call or Label

It’s easy when someone is angry to say, “You are a lazy jerk!” or “You never do anything!” That might feel good to say, but it doesn’t help deal with the problem – it just makes things worse. The other person gets upset because you have personally attacked him. Make sure your focus is on problem-solving, not attacking the person.

State Your Belief

Often people are upset because they have an expectation that has not been met. Think about why you are feeling angry and figure out what the underlying belief is behind it. Then, most importantly, tell the other person what your belief is about the issue.

Ex.) “I believe that if you make a mess, you clean it up. You threw your toys all over your room, you need to pick them up.”

Deal with Issue at Hand

It is easy when one feels angry to think about all the things that the other person has done wrong. Do your best not to dig in the past and talk about all his faults and things he needs to change or improve on. Focus on what is making you angry right now. Then tell the person specifically what they have done NOW that bothers you.

Ex.) “I am upset that you ate all the cake without asking.”

Say What Change You Want

You want to offer the person some ideas about how he can remedy the situation. Tell the person what you would like him to do instead. You don’t have to add an ultimatum, but if you do, make it reasonable and stick to it.

Ex.) “If you want to borrow my clothes, you need to ask first. If you borrow my clothes without asking, I will be charging you a ‘fee’ of $4 per item, and take it from your allowance.”

If the child takes your clothes without asking after you said this, make sure you follow through. Don’t make a threat if you will not carry it out. It’s important to be consistent when it comes to disciplining your child.

Let the Other Person Speak

Give your children the time they need to express how they feel and how they see the situation. You might disagree, but they deserve to be heard. By this stage, children will often agree to do what you asked because it makes sense and is fair.

Negotiate a Deal

Come up with an agreement you both can realistically live with. If your child spends too long in the shower, brainstorm ideas together. He could use a timer, have one long shower a week, or have showers at times when others aren’t waiting for the bathroom. Work out the details, and check in later to see if the plan is working.

Additional Rules

Call time out: If it’s getting too heated, ask for a time out and set a time to talk about it later.

No abuse: If a person becomes verbally, physically, or emotionally abusive – call him on the behavior and leave the situation if needed.

When dealing with conflict, use an assertive voice to say how you feel, why you feel that way, and explain what changes you want the other person to make. Make sure to discuss the problem that is bothering you in the moment, don’t dredge up past problems or name call. As well, give the other person time to express how he feels and then negotiate a deal you can both manage

References: Coloroso, Barbara. Kids Are Worth It! Revised Edition: Giving Your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline. NY: HarperCollins, 2002.