Do you scream at your kids to "stop fighting and just get along"? You may want to think again -- you could be doing more harm than good. Our expert tells you why.
Dr. Michelle Golland: "Just love each other!" is what my mom used to say, begging with tears in her eyes to her three little girls while they were fighting. I realize that she was only doing her best at the time. You would think this is not such a bad thing to want your children to do, right? Just love each other. I must say now -- having two bickering kids of my own -- that I understand the desire for them to simply just get along and not argue, but the reality is that people will disagree, families will argue, sisters and brothers will fight.
My mother, a very loving woman given the generation she grew up in, just didn't know how to teach her kids to fight and still stay connected. She did the best she could. My parents are loving and generous people, but they just did not equip us very well to deal with conflict in our house, and the consequences of that are now heart-wrenchingly and painfully clear.
You see, I sit here with no relationship with two of my three sisters. This is sad, painful, enraging, and lonely. I don't blame my sisters or my parents or myself -- I squarely hold accountable each of our own inabilities to listen to the other. If my mother had only begged us to "listen to each other," things may have turned out differently. If the focus was to understand how the other felt, there would have been much less stuffing of real feelings instead of "loving," which meant (when I was growing up) "don't say how you feel because it may upset someone." Believe me -- there was a lot of love in my house, but the real anger and hurt feelings were rarely addressed and never repaired. I wish all of us sisters had learned to compromise more and have empathy for each other.
What I personally struggle toward and try to work on with my couple clients and individual clients is about understanding oneself and others. Teaching kids that the only important thing is to "love" one another leaves no place for anger and frustration. If we only try to teach them to love and not the desire to understand their siblings' feelings, then we have left them without a bridge between love and hate. If there is no access to love for the person and no drive or desire to be understanding of the other person's thoughts, feelings, or ideas, then the only thing left is frustration, anger, and disconnection. Understanding and compassion form the necessary bridge between love and anger.
We travel along that road many times throughout our intimate family relationships. We pulse between love, hate, closeness, and distance over and over. This energy and pulsing must be filled with humility and vulnerability. Understanding oneself and others, often through compromise and empathy, is another goal I struggle toward myself and try to work on with my clients.
So here I sit now, wondering what to learn from this painful experience with my own sisters. I deeply want my children not to "just love each other" or rather, "pretend" to love by pushing down any and all conflict or disagreement -- or worse, dismissing each other's feelings completely.
I hope to teach my children that disagreeing is a part of life; not everyone will agree with you, nor should they. I want my kids to understand that in conflict (if handled well), with your heart moving toward understanding the other person, everyone can learn something and be changed by another's point of view. There is never just one way of looking at an argument or frustration. There are always multiple points of view.
Conflict is not all bad -- in fact, it can make you closer than you have ever been before if you allow yourself to be vulnerable and open to stepping into the other person's experience. An amazing tool that I have used in my own family and with clients is the family conflict board.
THE FAMILY CONFLICT BOARD
You will need a white board and markers. Place the board in a common area of the house where all family members can reach it. When someone in the family has a conflict with another member of the family, they write their own name on the board. This is a signal to you as a parent that they need a conflict check-in.
You go up to the child and ask them with whom they had a conflict (you never know, it may be you), then you bring that person or child over to the white board, where the child with the grievance can express their thoughts and feelings about the conflict.
The person or child who was the aggressor then apologizes, and also repeats what the child with the grievance said. For example: "Mikey, when I pushed you down, it hurt your knee and made you sad."
The parent also discusses with the children what they think would make the person who was sad or angry feel better. So this is the offering of a loving gesture.
GOALS: To allow the child to tell their hurt, anger, or sadness without being interrupted, and to explain their feelings over what transpired. They then share what they wish would have occurred instead and, had that occurred, what they would have felt. For the child that "hurt" the other child, it makes them face the feelings of his or her sibling, and starts to create empathy. An apology is always given, and the siblings hug to seal the connection of understanding and empathy. The repair is also an act or loving gesture given to the person who was upset.
Each member of the family will have many times where they play both roles in this experience. Parents can put each other on the board and allow the kids to see how they also can resolve conflict effectively. My kids love watching my husband and I talk at the conflict board! A big goal is to help each family member understand that they can voice their anger and sadness appropriately -- and it will be addressed and not dismissed, but will be heard and dealt with directly and honestly. Eventually the white board may not be needed, because each family member will be able to resolve the conflicts in the moment with ease and confidence.
When I think of my personal family situation, I am deeply saddened. So even when I want to just make my kids stop fighting at all costs, I realize it is imperative that I teach them how to disagree and stay connected to each other. They need to have a sturdy bridge of understanding and compassion between the inevitable feelings of love and anger that they will have as siblings. I never want them to believe that each other's thoughts, feelings, or ideas are of no consequence to them.
|Dr. Michelle Golland is a USC graduate and a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY#16974). She works with adults, teens and is an expert in the field of marriage and relationships. Dr. Michelle Golland has given her expert advice on CNN, HLN, MSNBC, ABC, and Fox news. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two wonderfully exhausting children.|