Responding to Conflict Resolution Needs at Home
If you had asked me even ten years ago if I would like to bear five children in six years, I would have called you crazy. And, yes, it was extremely crazy bearing five children in six short years. But, don’t get me wrong, I had always wanted five children as the third of five de Schweinitz children growing up in Palo Alto, California. While my husband and I experienced difficulties conceiving our first child, Kelly (12), a daughter, we were certainly surprised with how smoothly Kelly’s three brothers and only sister came along. In recent years, by adding George (11), Aaron (9), Andrew (7), and Lucie (6), we have filled our suburban Colorado home with lots of love, laughter, and opportunities for conflict management.
During the early years of having babies and raising toddlers, my husband and I labored intensively to clothe, feed, protect, and otherwise maintain our children’s physical well-being. Yet, as the pure physical demands of parenting small children eased and I pursued a master’s degree in conflict resolution at the University of Denver, I sensed a very strong need to review, redefine, and revitalize my vision of parenting. Like many other parents, I regularly wondered how to deal with the daily conflicts that threatened our family’s peace and happiness. Ultimately, while I had always imagined creating a peaceful home, I often felt unsure about how to achieve my vision.
Examining Our Own Conflict Resolution Habits
To figure out how to deal with family conflict, I had to first take a good look at my own tendencies and strategies surrounding conflict. Since childhood, I have recognized my tendency to run away from conflict. How ironic that I chose to study conflict resolution when I do not necessarily enjoy or naturally yearn to confront it! Yet, my studies and personal experiences have confirmed to me that my conflict avoidance patterns are mostly learned and not necessarily rooted in my personality. That means that even as an adult, I can modify and improve how I deal with conflict. In that vein, I am diligently working to more effectively confront, manage, and resolve conflict in my daily life using a variety of approaches, especially collaboration.
As I seek to modify and improve my own conflict resolution skills, I am convinced that every parent could reasonably model and teach effective conflict resolution and peacemaking skills to their children if they had the right tools. Naturally, I see so much greater potential in the young minds and fresh start of my children who won’t need years of unlearning bad habits to effectively manage personal, familial, or wider-scale conflicts. Consequently, I believe that conflict resolution skills should not just be left to the specialists, but need to be incorporated into our everyday teaching of our children at home.
Reflecting on Societal Patterns
If we could teach our children to confront, manage, and resolve conflicts in their daily lives using collaborative mediation principles, we could organically change our society dramatically in very positive ways. I am certain that the tenets of principled negotiation (as explained in books like Getting to Yes) give adults, as well as children great power to manage and resolve everyday conflicts.
Despite my strong academic background in international policy and conflict resolution, I write principally as a parent concerned with alarming societal trends about how people manage conflicts both publicly and privately. Like you, I regularly witness the polar ends of dysfunctional conflict management: from the tendency to avoid resolving everyday conflicts until they spiral out of control to the growing popularity of purposely inflaming contentions without respect or consultation with other parties. We see the results of these dysfunctional approaches with patterns of retaliation, intolerance, and hatred. These toxic societal trends regarding conflict management threaten not only our friendships, international politics, the economy, and work relationships, but, most importantly, our families.
While the Lorax spoke on behalf of the trees, I speak on behalf of the children who plead for a world of peace that begins in the home. Until we learn to act peaceably with each other within our own homes—no matter what the composition of our family—we cannot expect peace, happiness, or true success on personal or broader levels of society.
Putting our Best Efforts into Teaching our Children
As a believer that we should put forth our greatest efforts, talents, diligence, planning, and expertise into our greatest priorities, I have decided to create the Raising Mediators blog to share life-changing ideas to be applied in our everyday family lives to teach our children how to constructively manage conflict for a lifetime.
Many years ago, a family friend voiced his belief that he would always invest his greatest talents, efforts, and heart into planning for the success of his family. Sometimes in our families, I think we act as if things should just work out with raising a happy and productive family. We may fail to apply the best of our faculties and skills to the task of raising our children like we would to succeeding in our professions.
Too often, we spend the long hours developing the corporate strategy or forecasting the company’s numbers with great precision, but we leave our family success to some amorphous strategy of finding the best schools, signing our kids up for all kinds of extracurricular activities, and funneling money away in a college fund as if these steps were the only real keys to our children’s success. What if our children are missing the critical pieces of learning to manage interpersonal conflict and experience the resulting peace and connection with others that will make all these less central goals meaningful?
Exploring Family Conflict Resolution Topics
To broaden the possibility for parents to access life-changing parenting principles confirmed through rigorous academic research, I have developed the Raising Mediators blog, which will supplement my full-length Raising Mediators book to be published in Spring 2017. Through weekly blog posts focused on family conflict management issues, I hope to widen the audience for academically-based family conflict studies that involve such topics as:
I have found that these powerful conflict resolution studies focused on teaching children collaborative problem solving, perspective taking, and empathy should be readily accessible to parents who are best positioned to raise a generation of children who can effectively confront, manage, and resolve differences for the benefit of all involved parties. Given the right tools, we can revolutionize the way our children face the future and give them hope that they can manage the conflicts that will inevitably come as they rise to lead their generation. As their parents, I hope you will respond to the challenge of raising this needed generation of mediators.
Upcoming Blog Post to Review: Siddiqui and Ross (2004):
“Mediation as a Method of Parent Intervention in Children’s Disputes”
As the first in a regular series of blog posts featuring academic articles translated into real-life parenting applications, I will review the 2004 parent-led mediation study by Siddiqui and Ross. This pioneering study of parent-led mediation introduces the possibility for even very young children to learn mediation and achieve successful conflict resolution results by collaborating with their older, more mature siblings.
Siddiqui, Afshan, and Hildy Ross. 2004. “Mediation as a Method of Parent Intervention in Children’s Disputes.” Journal of Family Psychology 18, no. 1 (March): 147-159.
Emily de Schweinitz Taylor