By Jan Hittelman
While conflict can have a toxic affect on family functioning, it is a normal interpersonal occurrence in any relationship. The goal is not just to try and minimize it, but more importantly to develop and implement effective conflict resolution strategies for when it occurs.
• Allow for a respectful exchange of opinions: While the parents have the final say, it is important that children have an opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings prior to making any final decision. This will also increase the chances that children will honor the decision, knowing their opinions were first considered.
• Where possible, offer different resolution options for discussion: A good problem solving approach includes generating a number of possible solutions, evaluating the probable outcome of each, and then choosing the best course of action. It is important to model effective problem solving so that children learn to use these skills in their own life.
• Consider short-term “experiments”: Try to arrive at an agreed upon potential solution and then agree to implement it for a short period of time to allow family members to evaluate the outcome and determine if a different approach is needed.
• Normalize the experience: Given that conflict is often a normal byproduct of any relationship, don’t shy away from dealing with it. Moreover, avoiding conflicts is rarely an effective long-term solution.
• Focus on the process, not just the issue: While it is important that children comply with parental requests in the moment, teaching them how to develop good conflict resolution skills will serve them well for the rest of their lives.
• Walk the walk: Children model what they’ve been taught. Consider your own approaches to conflict with others in your life. It’s not uncommon, for example, that children with anger management problems have a parent with anger issues as well.
• Get help when needed: If despite your best efforts, significant family conflict continues, seek the support of a mental health professional with family counseling expertise.