Written by: Dr. Rick Manista
While the holidays with family bring us times of warmth, gift giving, celebrations, and memories the holidays also give us plenty of yelling, blaming, passive aggressive comments, and sometimes four letter words. Conflict is at an all time high during this season. While we can always joke about the petty drama, these arguments can linger and create uncomfortable environments. With the new year, we can use this time to reset and use some new strategies to prevent family arguments from occurring.
When we are upset about something, it is hard to find the right time and place to express ourselves. Instead of bottling it up inside and exploding later, create a time once a month for a family meeting. Check in with everyone on how things are going for them: school, chores, friends etc. Give everyone an opportunity (including parents!) to say something is wrong and problem solve around this. This can prevent an issue blowing up later.
No Cross Talk
The most important rule when having a family meeting or mediating a conflict is not to interrupt each other. Cross talk is when we start to speak over each other, and escalate the situation. When starting a meeting, be firm with this rule. This helps control the meeting and makes it productive. Sometimes kids respond well to “speaker power” turn taking objects such as stick. When someone has the object, only that person is allowed to speak. This can be hard to enforce, but it prevents a war from occurring!
Resist the Blame Game
Brene Brown’s (2015) research found that blame has an inverse relationship with accountability. While we are expressing hard feelings, we are not taking responsibility for a situation. Which can be hard, since many situations we cannot control! Instead of blaming, focus on what we can do to make the situation better. Once we start to break the “blaming” habit, we can have more productive conversations.
Feelings and Needs
All developmental theories states we have a series of needs we need to fulfill in order to reach our full potential. This can be safety, love, independence or expression, just to name a few (Luquet, 2017). If we do not get one of these needs met, we have bad feelings. When we see someone is upset, we can ask ourselves “what need are they trying to fulfill?”. This helps us stay out of judgement, and problem solve. Often in therapy, our goals with our clients are for them to identify their feelings and needs, and express them appropriately. This can be easier said then done.
One game that helps with this is Grok cards. Similar to Apples to Apples, one player tells a story with no feelings, while the other players choose feelings and needs cards that could best represent what the story teller was feeling. This helps kids create an emotional vocabulary and develop empathy. Grok cards can be found on Amazon.
When talking with family, it is important to use the format of an I statement to express yourself. “I feel __when you __, because I need __” (Burr, 1990). The format is simple but it helps make the situation more concrete for everyone. It also keeps us out of blame and has us express feelings appropriately. After doing this, it is easy to problem solve situations. This can be used as a script during family meetings.
One simple but effective strategy is to paraphrase what another person said. When we do not feel validated, we tend to escalate the situation. Paraphrasing helps communicate validation. It also gives us space to make sure we understand exactly what the other person is feeling. It is important to have all people involved in a conflict paraphrase each other. It reduces the anger and increases empathy.
Like all strategies, these have to be practiced and used for a period of time before any changes can be seen. With practice, these strategies can help transform any messy family drama into an opportunity for connection.
Brown, B. (2015). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms
the way we live, love, parent, and lead. Penguin.
Burr, W. R. (1990). Beyond I-statements in family communication. Family Relations, 266-273.
Luquet, W. (2017). Imago relationship therapy. In Behavioral, Humanistic-Existential, and.
Psychodynamic Approaches to Couples Counseling (pp. 160-189). Routledge.
Dr. Liz Matheis
Dr Liz Matheis and her team specialize in assisting children and their families with Anxiety, Autism, AD/HD, Learning Disabilities and Behavioral Struggles