Some parents proudly say: “My child always does what I tell them to do”. Many parents think that for some reason, a ‘good child’ must be obedient and refrain from expressing their own demands or desires or from getting into conflict with their parents or with their peers.
Such parents forget that parent-child conflict is normal and demand the impossible from their children. They want children to suppress their natural, aggressive feelings. Holding back negative feelings often leads to neurotic disorders. In psychosomatic medicine, there is a saying: “when the eyes aren’t crying, our internal organs are”. Nothing lasts forever, and sooner or later a destructive fight will break out – it will start over something small and end with a vengeful and demeaning clash where neither the adults nor the children manage to take the ‘high road’ and end up throwing personal insults at each other without thinking twice about it. Clearly, this does not solve the problem. It just makes the situation tenser and more unjust.
It’s impossible to imagine a normal relationship without conflict. Conflict arises out of the differences in people’s needs and goals. Two human beings would have to be identical to coexist without conflict. Normally, humans tend to value others for the fact that they’re different from them. Even scientists look for differing facts to disprove hypotheses. Parents on the other hand are for some reason relentless in their desire for their children to be an exact replica of them.
Just because there’s no conflict doesn’t mean that there’s love. Constructive conflict between two people who are close to each other may be solved naturally through some honest, and a few rough measures. This type of ‘fight’ has its own rules and principles which must be followed by both parties, but of course, in a parent-child conflict, the parents are the ones who should take on more responsibility.
The main principles of how a parent should behave during a constructive conflict
• Respect the differences between you and your child. Try to recall how you felt at their age. Remember that the differences between you and your child is where the strength in your parenting lies and what stimulates your child to grow as a person.
• Try to put yourself in our child’s shoes. Start your conversation with the words: “I understand that you…” followed by their point of view and your response to it. As a result, the child will come to realise that points of view different from theirs exist.
• Take your child’s ideas seriously. Respect their taste and interests. Don’t disregard their feelings and views. Remember, doing this will widen your horizons and make you question your outdated beliefs.
• Do not discredit your child. Do not point out the child’s characteristics or traits. Avoid insulting phrases and don’t be inappropriate. If you start to protest and repeat: “You’re not correct”, “This is your fault” and so on, you’re telling them that they’re either stupid or bad, whilst you are better than them and more intelligent. This is unpleasant for everyone involved. The child may find it harder to share their opinion with you, even when what they have to say is objective and valuable. Talk about your feelings. Tell your child how their actions made you feel.
• Allow your child to express their emotions – even with shouting and tears. Any conflict is usually caused by stored up negative emotions. When all the negativity gets flushed away, new space is created for positivity.
• Look closely at body language – sometimes gestures and actions are more telling than words.
• Listen to the end to what your child has to say. Ask them not to interrupt you either. The child should say what they want, and they should allow you to do the same. Say what you want to say clearly and firmly. Use humour, but don’t be mocking. Keep the conversation going until each and every one of you feels better.
• Repeat all of your child’s arguments in your own words. This will allow you to understand their problem and it will allow your child to see their worries from an outsider’s perspective.
• Show your goodwill – don’t be proud. Think and consider how you can help your child solve their problem.
• Offer them an alternative. If at a given time you cannot come to an agreement, make sure you offer a different option; one that will be acceptable and desirable for you and for your child.
• You must, without fail, tell your child and make them feel that you love and respect them as an individual. Always remember that in order for a parent-child relationship to be healthy, there must be conflicts. You must regard them as a normal part of family life. By taking into account the above mentioned methods and principles, your conflicts will become productive. A productive conflict will always lead to a productive outcome.
Psychologist at Public Health Foundation of Georgia (PHF)