Are you tired of shouting, yelling, sniping, and conflict in your family? Shouting is generally a sign we have lost our control. Even though we raise our voices louder to be heard, it can have the opposite effect, and people often switch off. This makes shouting a pretty counterproductive strategy for resolving conflict.
Conflict is a normal part of life, especially within families. We can’t always get what we want, or sometimes we have to consider the needs of others for the harmony of a group (in this case, our family). It’s also normal for our kids to bicker within families. After all, there is a competition for resources like stuff, time, love, and attention. Resolving conflict is a skill just like any other. We all need to learn how to do it and practice it over time until we perfect the craft. Learning to fight fair is also a skill we need to teach our kids.
Resolving Conflict Without Shouting
Here are some strategies you can use to reduce conflict in your family without having to shout1,2,3.
1. Identify the emotion.
Anger doesn’t feel good, but it is essential. It signals to us that a problem needs to be resolved. Even the simple step of naming the emotion can go to great lengths to help resolve the issue.
Everyone likes to feel heard. By naming the emotions experienced by others, we demonstrate we are listening, that we care and that we can “see” them, which goes a long way to protecting relationships despite experiencing conflict. Even acknowledging your own emotions can help you calm down enough to come at the conflict in a more balanced way.
2. Teach them that conflict doesn’t have to mean the end of a relationship.
Help them learn how to differentiate between a person’s action and the person as a whole. If they come to you saying something like, “My friend, Harlow, wouldn’t share her toy with me,” you can help them reframe their disappointment. Point out that their disappointment stems from not playing with the toy rather than being disappointed with their friend. The distinction is small but essential. They learn that they are upset with their friend’s action rather than their friend. They can keep or protect the relationship if they know how to see the difference.
3. Use better language.
Practice this phrase: “I feel (insert emotion word), when you (tell them what made you mad or upset), because (tell them why you had the feeling).” For example, “I feel sad when you hit your sister because, in our family, we treat each other gently.” This phrase is a great one to practice because it isn’t a blaming statement.
If we were to say, “You make me feel so mad when you hurt your sister,” you are asking your child (or the other person) to not only take responsibility for their action but also your emotions. It also places blame on the person and not their actions, making them feel guilty or full of shame. These emotions are very intense and can lead to anger (due to not wanting to feel shame/guilt) or other challenging behaviors to try and shift the sense of blame. Essentially it can result in conflict that escalates. It becomes “tit for tat,” which can become hard to resolve.
4. Reduce the emotion first.
This means you might need to wait for a resolution. When reducing the emotion, remove them from the trigger (the situation, object, or person) if it’s safe or appropriate to do so. Get on their level and use positive body language to show you are connected to them and open to hearing them (face them, make eye contact, ensure your arms aren’t crossed, etc.). Name the emotion you see and try to help them with initial coping strategies to reduce the intensity of the feeling before you move on to resolving the issue. If a person is still heightened or distressed, having a calm or rational conversation will be challenging.
5. Once everyone is calm, start problem-solving.
Do a brainstorm, write a pros and cons list, mediate and allow each person to have their say without being interrupted. We want to move into a solution mindset. That doesn’t mean necessarily solving the problem because sometimes problems can be bigger or more complex than that. But start figuring out the next steps or ways to repair the relationship. Or see if you can find some middle ground that would be acceptable for both people. Often, the process of feeling heard by the other person in the conflict can be reparative enough! It’s pretty powerful to feel acknowledged, and this goes a long way to reducing big and uncomfortable feelings which can drive conflict.
It is important to understand that conflict isn’t something we should eliminate. It is essential in healthy relationships where each person feels safe enough to express their opinions and knows that their opinions are valued.
Conflict is normal and natural. We will have competing needs and desires. We need to model for our kids not only how they can manage conflict but also how we manage it4. Children need role models to show them how to “fight fair,” and seeing you manage a situation and resolve it calmly and respectfully will help give them the tools to copy your behavior and maintain strong and positive relationships with family and friends.
Chen, DW, Fein, GG, Killen, M, Tam, H (2001) Peer conflicts of preschool children: Issues, resolution, incidence, and age-related patterns. Early Education and Development 12(4): 523–544.
Doppler-Bourassa, E, Harkins, DA, Mehta, CM (2008) Emerging empowerment: Conflict resolution intervention and preschool teachers’ reports of conflict behaviour. Early Education and Development 19(6): 885–906.
Eisenberg, AR, Garvey, C (1981) Children’s use of verbal strategies in resolving conflicts. Discourse Processes 4: 149–170.
Adams, RE, Laursen, B (2007) The correlates of conflict: Disagreement is not necessarily detrimental. Journal of Family Psychology 21(3): 445–458.