Manage conflict with a mission, reflection, and a space plan

How do I manage conflict between me and my kids, and between siblings?  As a family, we usually get along pretty well. Now that we’re home and on top of each other all the time, cracks are starting to show.

There are opportunities for conflict now that didn’t exist pre-COVID 19.  It’s understandable. This is a unique moment in time, and it will pass. But, we want to be talking to each when we get to the other side.  There are three things you can do to manage conflict with your family.  

Start by sitting down as a family and setting goals and boundaries for how you are going to cope. How do you want to face this unprecedented situation, together? You can call it a family mission statement, or you can simply write on a piece of paper a set of family goals for COVID 19. Either way, it’s a family discussion and everyone needs to have a voice and be included.   Answer these questions:

  • Who are we as a family?
  • What do we care about and value?
  • How do we want to treat each other?
Every family will ultimately have their own do’s and don’ts, but this will be your daily reminder (north star) and your own non-negotiables for when the times get tough, or tougher.

Next, think about your space. Whether you are living in an apartment or house, urban city center or rural community you have to look at your space and decide how you want to use it as a family. We have to set up the limited space we have at home so it works for us and our kids.  This isn’t a one-time plan either. The longer we #StayAtHome, the more creative we may have to get with our space. Where we eat breakfast at 8:00 am is now Mom or Dad’s home office and the living room couch has become a classroom. And that may work, but talk about it as a family, don’t just make assumptions. You can set expectations for each other and for the space by designing a space usage plan.  Start each week – or even each day if needed – answering these questions:

  • What does each person need to accomplish today?
  • What time does family space become a workspace?
  • How much privacy does each person need to avoid distractions?
Have fun with this. Your kids can make signs to designate workspace, study space, play space, and even an art area. They can design Do Not Disturb cards each family member can post when they should not be interrupted.  At the end of the day, shut down the workspace and turn it back into family space.

And lastly, no matter how much we try, we are going to fight. There are going to be disagreements. We are being forced into a situation that isn’t our choice and is beyond our control. With that comes a lot of emotion and big feelings, not to mention anger, stress, and pure exhaustion.  

When the fight happens, whether between us and our kids or between siblings, we have to set our own emotions aside and simply listen. We need to move from the role of parent to the role of mentor to our kids. This isn’t about one family member being right or wrong, or as parents needing to prove a point or even pass judgment. At our best, we can listen, ask genuine questions, and help our kids see their own logic and emotion in a situation. After the fight, or disagreement, have a reflection conversation by asking: 

  • What do you want from this situation? 
  • What emotions do you have?
  • What behaviors are you exhibiting?
  • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes – what do you think their perspective is?
  • What role can you play in getting to your desired outcome?
  • Is there anything you need to do to make the relationship right?

Simply put, reflection provokes your kids to think about what they want, who they are, what they care about, how they feel, and ultimately what they should do as a result. And, not because we told them to do it, but because it’s a choice they have made for themselves.  

The ability to reflect is one of the most invaluable skills we can nurture in our kids. It is when true learning and growth happens. Reflection gives the brain the opportunity to deal with messiness by slowing down, sorting through our thoughts, and ultimately taking personal responsibility to create meaning. This meaning becomes learning. It also allows us to be vulnerable.  Similar to emotions like gratitude, vulnerability allows us to accept imperfections, feel empathy for others, and ultimately change our behavior and outlook for the better.  

And if you or your kids aren’t talkers, write down your responses. You or they can even start a COVID-19 journal for their responses to this extraordinary situation. This can be a useful reference for the future. 

In the end,  all we can do right now is show up for each other, be kind and understanding and when we are in the wrong, reflect and make a different choice next time. And, pick up a new habit and skill for when we get to the other side.