Whenever you get people together, conflict is inevitably bound to happen. More than one person in any space and chances are strong peacemaking ability and resolution skills will have the opportunity to be developed. In our house that’s multiplied by 8, giving all of us plenty of chances to develop these necessary relationship competency. The, uh… “opportunities” *cough* to practice these critical relationship cornerstones increases with major change such as moving, school changes, out of town company, sickness, or adding a baby. This last one can be particularly challenging.
So it has come to be that I have spent much time sitting on the couch, breastfeeding a new baby and acting as moderator. What does this have to do with breastfeeding? Nothing, really. But if you are breastfeeding you are having children and some day, if not today, those children are going to fight with someone, maybe even you. Perhaps my sharing this will spare you some of the
suffering learning experiences I’ve had over the years.
I don’t know any parent that loves to hear their children fighting. Even if we recognize that conflict is inevitable and children need to learn how to work through things together, children fighting can be maddening and put even the most calm parent on edge. For years when my children would fight I would tell them to “work it out” or that if they couldn’t make peace together then I’d have to get involved and nobody would be happy. My involvement as a threat was probably not the most healthy option. Sometimes I’d threaten to force them to be together. Yes, I even tied their ankles together so they would “learn to cooperate and get along.” It worked to some extent, then they had a common enemy: me. Responding to their struggle with differences of opinion by forcing them to be together was a breeding ground for resentment even if it did momentarily lead to them “getting along” just so they could escape each other sooner. More importantly though, my efforts were self-centered: I wanted them to stop fighting for me, because I didn’t want to hear the conflict. Being motivated by my own desires to have a peaceful home meant I was missing a crucial opportunity to help my children learn how to use communication skills they would need later in life.
In my defense but not as an excuse, it was particularly challenging for me to seize that opportunity or even to recognize it for one very important reason: I didn’t really posses those skills myself.
As a mother I’ve learned and developed many skills because my children needed me to. Or perhaps more accurately, in the process of trying to help my children learn and develop many skills, I have learned a lot about myself and developed those same skills. Admittedly at times it has been more challenging for me than for them as I unlearn some unhealthy behavior patterns. There is no doubt in my mind that my children have greatly pushed me to be a better person. Conflict resolution and communication strategies that I previously did not posses I now have had numerous opportunities to not only learn and assist my children in putting into practice but can competently employ myself. Sometimes. I’m still working on it. Better late than never.
Today if you visited our home it is likely you would hear something about the “peace path” or even be invited to participate in one with a member of our family. Children from as young as 3 know how to walk the peace path if required, providing us all tools to work through conflict, grow in our communication, promote active listening, and develop personal responsibility in creating solutions that work for everyone. The Piano Man and I have walked the path with our children and even my mom was invited to walk the peace path with one of our daughters when she was visiting.
It was a Montessori teacher that taught us the Peace Path some years ago and we use it often though less and less as the girls develop the skills needed for healthy conflict management on their own. Here’s how we do it.
Peace Path- A Road to Conflict Resolution
Two parties in conflict
One moderator (objective and not involved in the conflict- often a parent but it can be another sibling or peer)
Anyone can call for the peace path, even someone not involved in the actual conflict but affected by the conflict (i.e. parent sick and tired of hearing children fight). Nobody should be forced to participate but the goal of a healthy and restored relationship made a priority. In our home if one member is unwilling to participate in the Peace Path but the point of conflict is such that some intervention is required the individual refusing to actively seek resolution potentially forfeits their voice in the resolution outcome. The idea being that if you want a say in how things turn out then you have to do the work, demands are not a part of healthy relationships but rather it is a cooperative effort.
There is a physical element to the Peace Path, particularly important for younger participants. This physical piece helps develop healthy nonverbal communication such as looking someone in the eyes, body language that reflects attention, etc. Realistic expectations appropriate for a child’s personal ability to engage according to their development is essential for the peace path to work well. The parties start 3 large paces from each other, facing each other. Along the Peace Path, each party takes a step towards each other for each step of the path. The path is concluded when they shake hands and agree to the solution in step 3.
If the Peace Path was called by someone engaged in the conflict that person goes first. If it was called by someone outside of the conflict, the moderator selects who goes first.
Party #1 states what they see as they conflict or problem (moderator may help clarify the conflict, summarizing it in 1 sentence if it becomes a tale of a series of events- conflict resolution is more effective with phrases such as “when you did… I felt…” or “the problem is that he has a toy that I want and he won’t share.”)
Party #2 repeats what party #1 stated as conflict, demonstrating that they heard and understand the conflict as #1 stated it. At this point they are not permitted to say they agree or disagree or argue that this is or isn’t the conflict.
Moderator asks if #2 agrees that this is the conflict. #2 may or may not agree. If they do agree that this is the conflict then move on to step 2. If they do not agree, repeat step 1 letting party #2 state what they see is the conflict. If there are 2 different conflicts presented, agree which one will be addressed 1st and do the peace path for the different conflicts. Often the 2nd conflict is actually resolved during the 1st conflict peace path. Both parties must agree on the conflict before moving on to step 2 even if it requires repeating step 1 multiple times.
After taking a step forward, the moderator asks #1 to propose a solution. (Moderator may need to help young travelers with this step and may intervene if parties agree to an unreasonable solution.) Moderator asks #2 to repeat the solution #1 proposed.
Following party #1’s proposal, moderator asks if this solution is acceptable to #2. If it is, the parties move on to step 3. If it is not, the moderator asks #2 to propose an alternate solution. Both parties must agree on the solution. If this step is taking a while the moderator can interject a solution proposal combining elements from the solutions both parties proposed. Young travelers may have difficult seeing beyond what they want to have happen in this step and moderator intervention can help bring the 2 together. More mature travelers often can see how what they initial proposed is only looking out for themselves and having truly heard their fellow traveler on the path will find more of a compromise that meets both their needs.
Facing each other the two parties shake hands (or hug) and agree to enact the solution immediately. The moderator reminds the 2 parties that failure to follow through on the agreed solution could result in a return to the Peace Path. This ends the Peace Path.
This method of conflict resolution works for adults too though obviously modified as adults don’t need the physical element and hopefully no moderator required. However, when there is conflict between an adult and a child, modeling this complete with the physical expression communicates great respect. I have even called the Peace Path a time or two between my children and myself when I was exahausted by the conflict between them, particularly if it has been a repetative issue. Our children have always appreciated us engaging fully in the Peace Path with them and some of the sweetest moments in our relationships with our daughters have come from making this journey with them. The basic principles are the same for conflict resolution though and can be a helpful tool to work through for anyone.
The Peace Path can be time consuming and sometimes I really don’t want to assist my children in walking it. I have to fight the desire to yell at them to knock it off, dismiss their conflict as ridiculous, and demand that they all learn to just get along. But then I’d be sacrificing the opportunity to help them develop these skills and risk setting them down an unhealthy path of conflict management while neglecting my own development. At least we are on this journey together.