This is the 11th article in a series of articles about common conflicts in contemporary families.
Q: What can contemporary families do to develop effective strategies to solve family conflicts?
A: Psychology professor Israel W. Charny published a speech in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy presenting common family conflict styles for resolving conflicts. He points out families need to understand they have choices in how to cope with conflicts.
The healthiest approach to conflict resolution is collaboration. This process takes time, involves family members working together, and works out solutions that are win-win for everyone.
Compromise, on the other hand, is a temporary solution in which everyone agrees to give up something for the sake of a more immediate solution. Both collaboration and compromise look for strategies that are the best for everyone involved.
Competitiveness in a family is based on the merits of winning and the weaknesses of losing. This conflict style is aggressive and solutions are based on the “I win-you lose” model. Sometimes families play competitive games or have races for fun. But in competitive families, those who lose can be humiliated and ridiculed. In these families, disagreements can transition into war games.
Acquiescence styles are practiced when family members care more about keeping the peace than they care about getting their own needs met. The scenario is “I lose-you win.” Compliant people who give in habitually to others are afraid if they do not serve others they will not be loved. This kind of conflict resolution style produces an imbalance of power with some who dominate and others who are submissive.
Avoiding conflicts at any cost is called conflict-avoidant. These persons are intimidated by conflict and refuse to deal with any sensitive topics. This model is named “I lose-you lose,” because no conflicts get resolved.
An article from the Journey 2013 issue of the “Psychology” journal stated conflict-avoidant families suffer psychological stress and less life satisfaction than peers. An article from the journal of Personal Relationships, 2012, reported children who are raised in conflict-avoidant families do not develop family loyalty.
A study published in 2011 in the “Journal of Youth and Adolescence’” reported teenagers change the ways they handle conflicts as they develop and mature. Mediators Jean Pointras and Susan Raines, in their book “Expert Mediators,” report families might use one style for easy conflicts and a differing style for serious issues. Men and women often favor different conflict resolution styles.
On PsychologyToday.com, author and psychologist Ken Berish, Ph.D., presents five necessary steps to solve common family problems with children. The first step is to introduce objectivity by taking a step back. Both parents and children need to regain control and calm down. Parents should then listen to the child’s grievance. Responding with what is right about what the child says should be said before telling the child what is wrong.
Acknowledging a child’s feelings and perceptions that are correct is important. Also important is giving a child explanations for rules and expectations.Then parents need to identify the problem and try to figure out the cause or causes.
Step 2 is for the parent to present the problem situation to the child. That step involves explaining to the child what the behavior is the child does and the subsequent response from the parent. That discussion needs to be done without blaming the child for the behavior in question.
Step 3 means eliciting ideas from the child for solutions. This approach makes a child less angry and defiant, less apt to make demands, and less argumentative. The child’s thinking will be more about solving the problem. Such an approach presents the child with a chance to see how meeting his/her needs and those of others might be possible. Parents should offer a child more time to think after asking for a solution to the problem. Parents can suggest meeting the next day, thus modeling to the child a realistic way to solve a problem.
Step 4 is for parents to present a plan for solving a recurring problem. Most times children will listen because they want a plan, just as their parents do.
The fifth step is a basic principle in successful problem solving: acknowledging effort and progress and offering praise and appreciation. This step involves rewarding a child for efforts toward self-control.
Psychologists have discovered from therapy that ongoing teamwork between therapist and patient is important in successful therapy. Collaboration is also effective in solving problems with children. Follow up should occur regularly by checking with children and asking, “How do you think we are doing with our problem?”
Next week’s article will continue a discussion of more effective strategies to solve common family conflicts.
Judy Caprez is professor emeritus at Fort Hays State University.