Every family has fights. Even in the most wonderful family, people fight sometimes. Fights can be between the parents, between parents and kid and between kids themselves. Fight create conflict and can damage the delicate fabric of relationships. However, if you come out of the other side of the fight stronger, it can in fact strengthen the bond between family members. This is why conflict resolution in the family is so important.
If you are a parent and you have fights in your family, rest assures you are perfectly normal. The science of conflict resolution is easy to learn and master. Once you learn the tricks, life can be much easier. It does not mean there will never again be fights in your family, but it does mean you will have less fights and you will be able to bounce back from them faster and come out stronger.
Teachers can usually manage fights in the classroom much better than parents do at home. This is mainly because they have learned some tools to prevent fights and ways to manage conflicts if they do arise. What this means is that you might notice some kids fight more at home than at school. This is more to do with the person “running the show” rather than the kid themselves.
The first thing you need to understand is that if kids fight at home, it is usually because they have learned it as a coping mechanism to manage conflict. Kids do not come up with a behavior (like fighting) all on their own. They need to have seen someone do it. Kids learn by watching the people around them. They learn from things that happen repeatedly and they develop “internal rules” about how the world works, based on what brings them pleasure and what brings them pain. A key rule is that children (and in fact any human) go towards pain much more strongly than they avoid pain.
The first rule of conflict resolution is to find out the source, the need that the child (or your partner) is searching for fulfillment for. This is the things that he/she feels they have to fight in order to get it. The reason we need to know the source of the need is because it will determine the solution. If the reason for the fight is attention-seeking, the solution is rewarding the child by paying positive attention, which is meeting the child’s needs. Punishment would do the exact opposite of what we want (give attention, but in the wrong way, encouraging bad behavior). If the child fights because he/she is tired, giving attention will not calm him/her down.
So remember that every fight (not just between/with kids) is based on a need that is not being met and the person, young or old, knows of no way of fulfilling this need without a fight. If you can fulfill the need, the fight will be over.
Conflict Resolution 101: Why People Fight
Here are 10 reason why people fight. You can identify at least one of these reasons in any fight.
- I need attention. Look at me, I will do anything for you to be with me, look at me, spend time with me, even get the teacher to call you to come to school so we can go home together after they kicked me out for three days.
- I need control. I can do things by myself, I don’t need to ask your permission to breathe, I have my own taste in cloth, in music, in the way I want my room to look. You are not the boss of me. I can’t wait for the time when I will be far away from you and won’t have to hear you telling me what to do. Let me be! I want to be myself!
- I need to protect myself from you. You are bully, you are scary and threatening, you are mocking me and making me feel useless and inadequate. You are my enemy, you are supposed to protect me and I can’t trust you. I need to defend myself from you at all costs.
- I am physically exhausted so I fight. I am tired or I am hungry or my skin is itchy. I can’t think, everything upsets me, I am grumpy and don’t know why, everything seems like hard work, don’t ask me to do anything that requires me to make an effort because I have no capacity to give it my attention.
- I need you to tell me I am special. Stop telling me to be like someone else, I want you to love me as I am. Don’t try to better me and tell me I am not enough, do not compare me. Help me keep my status in the family. I am not an extension of you, I am me, I am unique, I am special. I want to know that I am special for you, just the way I am.
- I need you to be consistent . You are not clear with your rules. Why is my sister able to go out until late and not me? You told me that I would be able to do that and now you have changed your mind, I can’t trust you, you are lying to me, you are not treating me equally and with respect. Why can you watch TV without helping clear the table and I have to clear the table after dinner? You are hypocrite.
- I need you to accept that some things are important to me. This is something that is important to me, I want to feel that my needs and wants and desires are legitimate. I don’t mind you controlling things but some things are important to me and I will fight for them or I will not be able to be true to who I am.
- I am scared; I need you to reassure me that everything will be all right. I am not sure what is happening. I am overwhelmed. I don’t have the knowledge, the skills or the courage to get over a problem on my own. I need you to be my pillar of strength and be with me. I need to lean on you and count on your strength to help me through.
- I need you to respect my property and my privacy. Do not ask me to share, these are my things, I own them. This is my room and I need my privacy. I need to know that no one will go through my things without my permission. I need you to knock before entering my room. I need you to ask before taking one of my clothes. They are mine!
- I am in trouble and I need help. I have troubles with the teacher in school, my friends do not want to play with me, I got a D on my math examined I am ashamed. I need help and I don’t know how to ask for it. Maybe a fight with you will make you ask me if there is anything I need help with and I will be able to tell you what is bothering me.
- I need to vent. I am upset and I can’t manage my feeling so I need to let it out on someone that is around. Maybe if I blame someone, it will be easy for me to manage the feelings I have.
Some fights are learned communication strategies. I know families that fight as a way of communicating. If you just sit with them for 3 minutes, they start fighting. It is very hard to pin point the beginning and who was the source of the fight. This is usually when everyone in the family has one or 2 (or 3 or 4) of the needs that are not being met and they expect each other to fulfill them.
In such situations, external intervention is necessary with the help of a professional who does family therapy or someone that specializes in parenting and work with parents. Parent coaching for example, helps parents take the lead and set the communication right. It is problematic when parents think their kids are supposed to fulfill their needs. In coaching, parents need to learn the science of conflict resolution and how to fulfill their own need (and their kids’ unmet needs).
Identify what kind of fights and arguments you have at your house. What do they look like? See if they fit any of the categories above. What is the basic need behind them?
Be a happy family!