How To Stop a Fight: Win/Win Conflict Resolution
- Win/Win Conflict Resolution, or Win/Win Negotiation, is an effective way to resolve a fight that allows both parties to get what they want.
- Practice Win/Win Conflict Resolution with your children so they learn to work out issues for themselves.
- Recognize the instances where Win/Win Conflict Resolution would not be effective, and decide on a different approach.
When children fight, it is often to get their parents’ attention. A common response for parents is to enter the situation quickly and emotionally, take a side, scold the child that was “wrong,” and console the child that was “right”. This approach may put an end to the bickering at the moment, but sets you up for escalation of the fighting in the future. It reinforces roles like “Victim” and “Bully”, sets you up as the referee, and does not model for your children how to work things out for themselves.
How do you react when fighting erupts in your home?
Win/Win Conflict Resolution is a valuable tool that empowers children to work out the issue themselves.
How to Implement Win/Win Conflict Resolution
- Enter the situation calmly. Don’t take sides.
- Have the children speak to each other.
- Have one child say to the other how they feel and what they want.
- Have the other child say to the first how they feel and what they want.
- Ask them, “How can you make this work for the both of you?“
- Stop talking and listen. Offer help only when you are certain they are stuck.
When There Is a Toy or Other Object in the Center of the Fight
- Without talking, enter the situation.
- Touch or rub the back of the child that has the toy and look at him with your other hand out. This body position should be communicating without talking, “All action stops until I have the toy”.
- Once you have the toy, either facilitate Win/Win Conflict Resolution or say “I’ll be in the kitchen (or office, outside, etc). When you figure out how to work this out, let me know.”
The Importance of Practice
You must practice facilitating conflict resolution to get good at it. Don’t be discouraged if the first time you try this technique, it doesn’t go perfectly. Usually, the first few times are awkward as you learn how the process works. You’re learning how to stay centered and grounded in the situation, and most importantly your children are adjusting to and learning from you. Don’t just practice this between your children. Use it in all sorts of other situations in your life, such as:
- When you are in disagreement with your spouse (great modeling)
- Between you and your children when they are fighting with you or your spouse
- When the fight is with other children not from your family
I’ve used this technique on the playground, in the school yard, on play dates, at parties and at work. As you improve with practice you will see more and more opportunities to help resolve conflict peacefully.
This probably will not surprise you, but win/win negotiation will not always work. Sometimes, you don’t have time. Sometimes, like when you are driving, you can’t do it and still focus on the road. One common issue for me is that I’m too upset myself to be a calm presence for my two boys. Below are some ways it can go wrong, and some suggestions for how to handle these instances.
If you experience a problem, stay calm. When you have a spare moment, think about what caused the problem and how you might adjust your technique. Regardless of result, as long as you stay calm, you modeled peaceful conflict resolution to your children. Here are some problems that I’ve encountered and ways to deal with it.
- You are too upset to stay neutral: You just saw the oldest push the youngest off the swing set. You know that the youngest has been hogging the swing but you still get so mad that you can’t help taking the younger’s side. If you know this is coming, don’t try win/win. Take a short pause to see if you can get your feelings under control. You can always try one of the techniques offered in “Other Ways to Handle Fighting”.
- They are too tired to be rational: If your children are exhausted, don’t slow the road to bed or nap with a bunch of rational conversation. The same goes with being hungry, hot, cold or anything that will keep them from being able to think clearly. Take care of their (and your) basic needs first!
- Your younger child is having a total melt down: This is not a situation where you want to push a win/win negotiation. Not only will it not work, you are going to get frustrated and angry.
- One or both of them run away: My boys do this all the time. This almost always means that the conflict is over so I never chase them. What I do instead is talk to them afterwards and try to have them work out a way to deal with the same situation in the future.
- One child always gives in: Talk to him about that and suggest that he asks for what he wants so that it can be a win/win.
- They don’t give you the toy: My younger son sometimes won’t give me the toy prior to doing conflict resolution. First, make sure that you wait for it without talking. As soon as you start talking you are starting an argument, and your child is likely already an expert at arguing with you. Don’t grab or pull it away. If things are stalled, start conflict negotiations anyway. Otherwise, check out the second half of this lesson “Other Ways to Handle Fighting” for more suggestions.
As you practice, make sure that you post your experiences on the forum so that everyone can learn.
School Yard Success
I was talking to a friend Jim in the kindergarten playground of my older son’s school when we both looked over to see Evan (whose parents had not arrived yet) pinning Jim’s son Sebastian to the ground. Jim ran over, pulled them apart, and started speaking in a stern voice to Evan about how “you don’t do that”. Clearly he was taking his son’s side, and Evan was frozen with fear. About that time the other boys started to circle and my son Calen began to watch. I knew I needed to model a different way of dealing with this.
I stepped around the group and stood behind Evan, putting both my arms over his shoulders and covering his heart with my hands. I wanted to make sure that Evan felt totally supported and not so alone with everyone staring at him. Then I cut into the conversation.
“Hang on a second,” I said to Jim and then turned to address his son. “Sebastian, how do you feel right now and what do you want?”
Sebastian, near tears, skipped the first question and with a shaky voice replied, “I just don’t want Evan to pin me down like that again.”
Then I asked Evan the same questions. At that point Evan, the “bully” of the situation, began to cry. “I just want Sebastian to stop pushing us around.” Some of the other children started to echo that request. Apparently, Sebastian was being too rough for most of the boys.
I could see Jim begin to react, so I had to move fast. “Sebastian,” I said gently, “does that work for you? If you stop pushing Evan and the other boys, Evan will stop pinning you down.”
Sebastian replied, “Yes.”
I knelt down to Evan’s level, keeping my left hand on his heart and right hand on his shoulder, making eye contact. “Does that work for you, Evan?”
Evan also replied, “Yes.”
Tension released, everyone relaxed, and the boys began to play again.
Afterwards, one of the moms watching, who was also a Waldorf teacher, came up to me and said, “That was a really good thing you did today.” I had made an impact on the whole group!
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How to Stop Fight Win Win
Win/Win Conflict Resolution,