During the COVID-19 pandemic, many families have spent more time together than ever before. Along with increased time, many families have experienced increased conflict. Consider the following conflict resolution tools to help reduce tension and promote healthy resolution.
Praise the Positive. John Gottman, a world-renowned relationship expert, suggests a 5:1 ratio between positive and negative interactions for maintaining a positive relationship. That can sound overwhelming at first, but even just shifting to focus on the positive can improve parent-child relationships. How can this be done practically? It might mean delaying or letting go of certain criticisms in the moment and being a detective, watching for opportunities to provide praise. Some examples, “I like how you hung up your coat” or “Wow, I noticed you came to the table the first time you were called” or “you and your brother are playing so nicely” or “look at how hard you are working on that assignment”. With consistent practice, maintaining a positive ratio can improve the willingness of children to cooperate with requests and to experience a sense of appreciation in their relationship with you.
Follow through Consistently. It’s important not to use empty threats or exaggerated consequences, especially if you aren’t going to follow-through on them. If, over time, children observe inconsistency in their parents, it can reduce your credibility. Also, if the punishment doesn’t seem to match up with what the child has done or doesn’t seem fair in comparison between siblings, it can create hostility. Most of the time, when parents give punishments that they aren’t able to follow through on or that don’t match up with the severity of the situation, it is because they feel an urgency to make a decision NOW. When we are heated due to the stress of a situation, it’s difficult to be our best selves. That leads to our next tip.
Model Good Behavior. Take breaks if you notice becoming upset, let your child know what you are doing and why. For example, if you need to take a moment to think before deciding how to discipline, it’s okay to say that. When we model the need to take a break, it gives our children permission to do the same. Try to avoid raising your voice, especially if you are requesting that your child stop yelling. Too often as parents we can model the behavior that we are asking our children to stop doing. At the same time, we are all likely to make mistakes and it is just as important to model apologies when we overreact or use unkind/unfair words.
Know your Triggers and Plan Ahead. Each parent is different and because of those differences, you might find yourself being bothered more or less by the actions of your children. This can be a carryover from the way that you were raised, personal expectations, sensitivities or preferences. For example, some parents are very bothered by poor manners, slamming doors, messy rooms, incomplete chores, or the use of coarse language. Take a moment now and think about the behaviors that are most bothersome to you. Next I want you to think about why it bothers you; usually we have a judgment about the intent of a bothersome behavior, such as, “a messy room shows lack of appreciation for the things I do”. After identifying the underlying judgment, make a plan for how you will remain calm and consistent when your child(ren) inevitably engage in a triggering behavior.
I hope that the above tips provided you with some ideas for parenting during this unprecedented time. Remember, you are not alone! If you notice the need for additional support or significant difficulty during this time, consider reaching out to speak with a therapist.
-Jessica Smith, MA, LMFT
Owner, Encompass Hope, Llc