Conflict Management at Home
by Lew Mi Yih
“Go and take a shower now.” Grandmother instructs the 5-year-old child.
“No.” the child replies and continues to play.
“Go and take a shower now.” Grandmother repeats.
“No.” the child replies and continues to play.
“Why are you so disobedient? Go and take a shower now.” Grandmother raises her voice.
The child gets upset and retorts “No, I do not need to shower.”
“Go and take a shower now.” Grandmother continues to raise her voice.
The child throws the toy down and walks away.
As a result, Grandmother gets upset and complains to the mother that the child is disobedient. The child gets annoyed by Grandmother’s persistent nagging and ignores her. Mother steps in to investigate.
The child replies, “Grandma wants us to shower but you said we are going swimming, so do not need to shower.”
Grandmother responds, “How would I know that you are going swimming? No one told me.”
A common scenario at home where two family members are having a conflict. Conflict happens when there is tension between two or more people who think or act differently.
The common reasons why conflict arises could be like this situation where Grandmother had a lack of information and is not aware that the child is going swimming. However, the 5-year-old child did not communicate clearly why he does not need to shower. There could also be another reason where Grandmother thinks that her way is the best, and everyone should quickly have their shower in the morning so that she can do the laundry.
How do family members often respond when there is conflict? We could fight it out by arguing or taking flight and avoid talking about it. However, we find that it often damages the relationship - either by the words and tone of voice; or wear down the commitment by the lack of a response. Based on research findings , we recognise that conflict - whether marital, parent-child, or sibling-sibling is a fact of family life that may have constructive as well as destructive effects on the development of children. Researchers Prado and Markman make the point that although conflict itself is not problematic, how conflict is handled can lead to problems.
The key is not to eliminate conflict but how to manage and respond constructively.
Here are three tips to manage conflict at home.
3 Tips to manage conflict at home
1. Stay Calm & Reflect
I am not sure when was the last time you took a flight with the current pandemic, but I hope you do remember that before the plane takes off, there is always a safety briefing that in the event of turbulence, parents must put on the oxygen mask first before attending to their child. Our state of mind will affect those around us. Hence it is important that we pause to breathe and not respond with a knee-jerk reaction.
Take time to reflect on what is happening and ask yourself some questions:
What am I feeling now? Do I feel loved or appreciated?
What is causing me to feel like that? Is it due to my unmet expectation?
Are my expectations known to others? Are my expectations reasonable? Am I willing to adjust?
2. Affirm the Team
During a conflict, we often have the tendency to take sides. However, in a family, we must recognise that we are all on the same team with different roles and responsibilities. Family members may have their own quirks and habits, if we know that we love one another, we will be willing to work things through. We also need to recognise that grandparents are growing old, and their health and awareness of their surroundings will diminish. Hence as a family, we need to slow down to help them keep pace with what is happening at home and cope with aging.
Good intentions are not enough to build strong family relationships. Teamwork is all about good communication. Building the team starts with listening well. We need to listen without prejudice to understand the other person’s perspective. Refrain from assuming that we know, as situations are changing, and our family members are also growing older. Take time to ask questions and clarify. When the other party feels that you understand what they are going through, they are more likely to be opened to hear what you have to say.
Everyone wants to feel respected at home, even the children. Speak respectfully to one another and be aware of the tone and words used. It is okay to agree to disagree. What is more important is how to come to a consensus that address both parties’ concerns.
3. Find the Right Time to Talk
It is important to talk about the cause of the conflict, but finding the right time is even more vital. Do not talk about issues when you are having a fun time with your family. It leaves a bad aftertaste and will reduce the motivation to go for the next outing. Issues need to be addressed, so set aside time to discuss when both parties are not tired or distracted. It often does not hurt when you start the discussion with humility and recognise that you have a part to play in the situation. Take turns to share your side of the story and how it impacts the relationship. Brainstorm possible solutions and work towards a win-win situation.
Personally, when conflict happens, it is a time for me to rethink what is most important. Life is short, we can either spend the time fighting or making memories that will last a lifetime. Let us view conflicts in our life as opportunities for growth and learning.
Cox, M. J., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (Eds.). (1999). Conflict and cohesion in families: Causes and consequences. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.