Raising Happiness

 

Would You Guys Just Knock It Off? 10 Steps to Peace in Your Household

December 2, 2008 | The Main Dish | 1 comment

The last posting was about the benefits of conflict and why we need to teach kids to resolve conflict constructively themselves. This posting will teach you how to do it.

You might be thinking that this is a posting for parents of older kids and teens. And it is. But it is also important to start teaching constructive conflict resolution skills pretty darn young. Recent research shows that kids as young as two can be taught to resolve many of their own conflicts without adult intervention.

Sign me up, I hear you saying. How is it that we teach kids to resolve their own conflicts? Doing all this research on conflict resolution has given me some insight into why my constant refrain ("Would you guys just knock it off?!") is so spectacularly ineffective when my children are bickering. When kids fight, we need to mediate their conflict until they learn to do this themselves.

Positive conflict resolution is pretty simple, but unless you are a lot smarter than me (entirely possible) you might need to reference this list a few times to get the hang of it.
10 Steps to Peace in Your Household

  1. Breathe. If you are anything like me, arguing kids make me tense and prone to, uh, yelling. We don't make effective mediators when we are angry or upset. I often need to take a few deep breaths to center myself before entering the fray. Unless the action is escalating wildly, take a second to go get your handy printed "10 Steps to Peace List."
  2. Address the situation. Paradoxically, peacemaking requires confrontation. We often need to help arguing kids realize that they are experiencing a conflict that they need to resolve themselves. It is too hard for kids to manage something they can't name or even see is happening.
  3. Now help them calm down and gain some distance from negative emotions. Conflicts cannot be resolved productively until the "heat" of the moment passes. One way to speed this process is to create a conflict resolution area or time that promotes calm. This can be a peace table, a talking stick, or a family meeting. By making an actual physical space or dedicated time for conflict resolution, you can help kids step back and gain some perspective that will help them solve the conflict.
  4. Have each person state what they want. In one study, 40% of uncoached kids failed to state what they wanted out of the conflict resolution. Rule number one in getting what you want? Ask for it! What does each kid see as the problem? Each might describe something completely different, which is okay.
  5. Have each express their feelings. How is the conflict making them feel?
  6. Have them state the reasons that underlie what they want and how they are feeling.
  7. Have each person communicate their understanding of the other person's wants, feelings, and reasons. At this point, the problem is now their common ground, and they can work together to solve it.
  8. Change the focus. Instead of letting your little warriors continue to personalize the conflict (you hurt my feelings, you always get to play with the Target-knock-off-American-Girl-doll and I never do) refocus them on the conflict itself. It is now a problem they will solve together. One approach is to write the problem down and have the kids sit down together facing it.
  9. Ask them to invent together three or more solutions that meet the needs they expressed earlier. Especially with little kids, it is important to realize that the children's solutions may not seem like good ones. That doesn't matter, though, if the kids like their ideas and are able to agree on them. Note that this is not about having each come up with compromises—it is about finding the win-win.
  10. Agree on the solution that maximizes both of people's benefits. Shake hands or hug, and go have some fun!

The other part of teaching kids to resolve their conflicts in a positive manner is easier said than done: we've gotta model positive conflict resolution skills ourselves. This means that I'll be using these 10 steps as a guide to solving my own conflicts with the kids, and to managing disagreements with their dad. Knowing all the benefits that conflict resolution skills bring to kids, I now want my kids to see conflicts as opportunities to listen and to learn, rather than to just quit it.

Each time we take kids through those 10 steps, they learn that they can solve problems in ways that make them feel competent and effective. They've increased their ability to cooperate, to empathize, and to build strong relationships. So conflict really is a good thing. And so are fights between friends. Why? Conflict provides the fuel for growth we all need to become healthy, happy, and resilient adults.

Feel free to reprint this article in your own blog or publication, but please link back to us or otherwise send your readers to www.GreaterGoodParents.org. And send us a copy!

10 steps adapted in part from Johnson & Johnson, Teaching Students to Be Peacemakers, 1995, in Stevahn, 2004.

© 2008 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

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Conflict: It’s a Good Thing

November 23, 2008 | The Main Dish | 4 comments

"He's totally conflict avoidant, so it isn't like we ever fight about this stuff," my friend recently told me about how she and her hubby address their differences. She seemed proud that the fighting in her household registers low on the Richter scale. Meaning: conflict is bad. Glad we don't have it.

It's true—conflict can be very uncomfortable. Whenever what we want seems at odds with someone else's desires, we have conflict. In preschoolers and among siblings, conflict is most often about contested toys or space. My 7-year-old is super-obsessed with rules and regulations and fairness, so conflict for her comes when people aren't following the rules to her satisfaction. My best friend has read about a hundred books on teasing and bullying, because that is the type of conflict her sixth-grader has been dealing with since the third grade. And no matter our age, most of us have been known to argue about contested opinions and beliefs.

But because conflict fuels change, it is also what makes life interesting. Think about what a snoozer a movie would be without conflict! Conflict is entirely necessary for intellectual, emotional, and even moral growth. Good thing, because even if we'd do anything to avoid it, conflict will always exist. Conflict between children is like the air they breathe: research shows that playing kids experience about one conflict every three minutes.

As I mentioned in last week's posting, if we want our children to lead happy and meaningful lives, they are going to need lots of positive relationships. And if we want them to be able to foster strong friendships, the best thing we can do is to teach them learn how to deal with conflict by doing more than avoiding it.

We may avoid conflict between adults, but most of us parents and teachers are constantly addressing it with kids. Kids don't know how to settle disputes constructively until we teach them. One exhaustive study showed that left to their own devices, 90% of conflicts between elementary school children go unresolved or end destructively. Most kids shun conflict or try to crush their opposition; more than 60% rely on adults to resolve their conflicts. After reading a dozen or so studies about conflict resolution, I have found that my own cutie-pies regularly model three unhealthy ways to deal with conflict:

  1. Force. As when Molly just rips a toy she wants out of Fiona's hand and runs.
  2. Withdrawal and avoidance. When Fiona says, loudly, "I don't want to talk about this anymore" and then walks out of the room.
  3. Giving in. As when Fiona is nag nag nagging Molly for something she doesn't want to give up. Molly, sweet child that she is, often decides that it isn't worth enduring Fiona's heckling and so—seizing the opportunity to gain approval from me—will very sweetly give Fi exactly what she wants. (Note to self: stop praising the kids when they give in to sibling heckling.)

Just Stop It

There are two main ways that we adults intervene when our kids start to fight. The first is what I'll call the "just stop it" method: we tell them what to do ("give that back and say you're sorry"), physically separate them, or take the object in dispute away. We are judges and umpires, generating solutions and commandments without much help from the bickering masses.

Necessary though all this often is, the "just stop it" method does not teach constructive conflict resolution, nor does it teach kids to learn to resolve their conflicts themselves. Effective conflict resolution requires empathy: the kids have to be able to take into account their friends' points of view, making it a natural opportunity for children to learn to consider other people's feelings.

So the other way that we can intervene is to act as a mediator or coach rather than dictator. Instead of stopping the conflict or imposing solutions, we can help kids see other people's perspectives, and we can encourage them to generate their own solutions. In addition to helping our kids foster strong friendships (and therefore lead happier lives), research shows that learning positive conflict resolution brings loads of benefits to kids, boosting their academic performance and increasing their self-confidence and self-esteem. It has also been linked to increased achievement, higher-level reasoning, and creative problem solving. Learning how to resolve conflict with siblings and peers helps kids cope with other kinds of stress, making them better adjusted and more resilient as teenagers—and more successful as adults.

So the next posting will be Conflict Resolution 101: how and what to teach your kids so that they can resolve their own conflicts positively.

Related posts:

© 2008 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

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Happiness is being socially connected

October 31, 2008 | The Main Dish | 2 comments

Network, network, network. Adults in the business world certainly know how important it is to stay connected to their colleagues and peers if they are to have successful careers, but did you know that the number and strength of our social connections are also very important for happiness?

The upshot of 50 years of happiness research is that the quantity and quality of a person's social connections—friendships, relationships with family members, closeness to neighbors, etc.—is so closely related to well-being and personal happiness the two can practically be equated. People with many friendships are less likely to experience sadness, loneliness, low self-esteem, and problems with eating and sleeping.

We live in a world where social media (like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and text messaging) make it easier to be "connected" to loads of people all the time. Many of us also live in a society that values privacy and independence over proximity and interdependence. Americans dream of country homes where they can go days without seeing any neighbors. Setting aside that happiness can come from establishing our connection to nature and monk-like training retreats, physical isolation is a recipe for loneliness—a particularly potent form of sadness. When it comes to happiness, teaching our kids to value and foster proximity and connection is a much better bet than a house with a long gravel driveway.

Robert Putnam wrote an interesting book, Bowling Alone, about how we Americans are becoming less and less connected to one another. As a parent, it makes me think about how we spend our time: if our happiness is best predicted by the quantity and quality of our relationships with others, how can we foster lots of strong relationships between our family and our communities? I often feel so busy—sometimes too busy to spend time with my friends. But then I think about what I'm modeling there: if I'm too busy for my friends, what DO I have time for? Little is more important for our over-all well-being than our relationships with other people.

When it comes to fostering social connections in kids, I see three arenas for discussion and development.

  1. The first is our family relationships—where it all starts—so in the coming weeks I'll blog about the importance of establishing secure caregiver-child attachments. Social and emotional intelligence is critical for forming strong relationships, and the parent-child bond is a great place to teach the emotional literacy that will lead to social intelligence.
  2. As kids get older, having the skills to negotiate and maintain relationships becomes important, and so I'll also be blogging about teaching kids how to successfully resolve conflicts. You might also want to check out some previous posts about gratitude and forgiveness. Having the skills we need to forgive can make or break a relationship, and people who consciously practice expressing gratitude and appreciation have stronger relationships.
  3. Finally, altruism—being kind to others, even strangers—creates deep and positive relationships, and so I'll be blogging more about teaching kindness in coming weeks as a part of this series about fostering strong relationships.

Until then, please post your stories. Where have your kids created their strongest bonds? What skills do they have that serve them particularly well in this arena?

Regarding point No. 2, above: Watch this video to learn how to teach kids to be grateful.

[Note: If you're reading this post via an email or RSS reader, you won't have access to its embedded video. Please click here to view the full article.]

© 2008 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

Join the Campaign for 100,000 Happier Parents by signing this simple pledge.

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