Is it possible for a family to have no conflict, disagreements, fights, or squabbles during the festive season? I hate to disappoint, but given different emotional states, personalities, ages, values and expectations, conflict is inevitable.
5 steps to Family Peace-Building this Festive Season will help you prepare for dealing with conflict effectively and compassionately and show how you can reduce the possibilities for conflict. Using Parent Effectiveness Training skills you can choose to be a role model for peace building and enrich your family rather than increase conflict.
Step 1. Peaceful helping when your children have problems: Listen to their needs! Christmas time is usually a hectic time for parents following a busy time at work, doing shopping, preparing for holidays and focusing on making sure all is prepared for festive celebrations. At this frantic time if you view your children as sources of irritation when they come to you with their upsets and problems you will miss opportunities for peace building. Choose to think peace.
Active listening is the skill that Dr Thomas Gordon devised to best soothe frayed tempers and upsets. The skill de-escalates heightened emotions and as current neuroscience suggests allows the child to think more clearly once the emotions are released. The child is more able to work out what their needs are. Peace can reign!
So when your child comes to you upset that they didn’t get to put the star on the Christmas Tree or they broke their new toy, choose to actively listen by summing up their feeling and the fact of the situation: “You’re so disappointed when you didn’t get the chance to put the star on the top of the tree”; “It’s so upsetting that your toy has broken when you wanted so much to keep playing with it.” Your child will feel deeply heard and feel your love.
When you roadblock the possibilities for peace you choose to blame, criticise, condemn or order your children. You then dismiss your child’s feelings, inflame friction, fuel the fire and lessons of peace building are lost.
Remember to listen to yourself as well – your own needs. Listen to your signals of unmet needs: irritability, tense muscles. Take action for your inner peace and choose to take a few minutes for yourself; take some deep breaths; cool down and have a drink of water; notice where your tension lies and relax your muscles.
Step 2. Peaceful relationship building: Christmas time is a particularly opportune time to do this.
a. Share your love and your appreciation for each member of your family. More than giving gifts, a Positive I- Message is a clear, affirmative and touching way to give positive feedback. Writing a very personal I-Message in a card speaks to the heart of another: Thank you for being you; I love mornings when your bright smiling face greets me and you come for snuggles; Your kindness shines in so many ways like when you helped your little brother to find his toy; I admire the way you try and try again to learn new things, like when you learnt to ride your bike this year; I just love having fun with you and reading stories together at night.
b. Share your values, likes and dislikes with Declarative I-Messages. Find times when everyone is relaxed and there are no problems. Have fun. Play your favourite games together. Make up games. One made up game could be a series of individual questions written on pieces of paper or on the back of old gift cards or tags where you learn about each other. One at a time each family draws out of a hat and answers the question or statement (there is no right or wrong answer) eg What do you like best about this time of year?; What is special about the star on the Christmas tree?; Sing your favourite Christmas carol?; What was your favourite gift ever?; If you could wave a magic wand what gift would you give to everyone in the world?; What is your favourite Christmas food? What would you like our family to give another family less fortunate than us?
c. Prevent possible conflicts days before by expressing your needs and listening to other family members needs then problem solving solutions that suit the whole family and help each other. This might centre around identifying and sharing needs for Christmas Day – what children might be needing (have fun, eat, open presents), what parents are needing (provide food, ensure guests are happy and included, have a peaceful day, celebrate Christmas), and the anticipated needs of visiting grandparents and relatives. Great solutions might be generated once needs are identified eg children might offer to help serve nibbles, sing Christmas carols, an approximate plan for the day could be mutually agreed upon, children might choose to make decorations, a menu could be mutually agreed upon.
Step 3. Peacefully confront when behaviour is unacceptable: use assertive rather than aggressive or passive language if you need to confront your children.
Using a Confrontive I-Message puts the child in the position of a helper rather than a culprit: “Honey, I need your help before our guests arrive? If toys are left on the floor I am worried that someone might trip and get hurt and we won’t have enough free space to set up for our Christmas games.” This is peace- building in action. Compare the resultant feeling of peaceful helping from a Confrontive I-Message to the opposite when you blame, criticise or command: “You’ve made such a mess. Pick those toys up now; How many times have I told you?” Creating friction, tension, resistance and rebellion destroys the spirit of Christmas.
Step 4. Peaceful conflict resolution means problem solving conflicts as they arise. Squabbles over games or who got the biggest piece of cake are highly likely especially when excitement and tiredness feature. Role model win-win problem solving rather than ordering your children: go play nicely; stop being babies; I’ll send you to your room; there’s a lot of children in the world who’d be happy to have these toys/ food. Firstly ask and acknowledge the upset for each child: James you are upset because Zara had more turns than you think she should have; Zara you like playing this game too and you were wanting to continue playing. How can you work this out so that you can both get your needs met and enjoy playing the game fairly?
Actively listen any further protestations and restate their needs. Secondly encourage them to brainstorm ideas to solve their problem. Next let them choose the best solutions for them and ask if they need any help in carrying this out. Tell them that they can see how it’s all working out and work out something else if need be later on.
If you think this process is too time intensive, it may in fact be resolved quite quickly. The alternative is time intensive with continued hostilities, tensions and fights to get back at each other or at you if you have imposed an autocratic solution.
Step 5. Peacefully resolve values collisions: collisions about values not only with children but also between adults are often the greatest source of family conflict. Role model respectful, communication and peaceful family relationships by using Parent Effectiveness Training skills. When differences occur actively listen to the other person’s opinion. Usually people are so intent on sharing their perspective and convincing others of their ‘rightness’ they do not hear others. Sum up the other person’s opinion first then share your perspective. Being enthusiastic about your opinion is different to being bombastic. Agreeing to disagree may be the outcome following a political or religious discussion. Alternatively problem solve for a mutually agreed solution eg listening to Christmas carols part of the day and the children’s choice of popular music for another part of the day.
Family peace-building is a foundation of world peace. Enjoy your Christmas!