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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds Well, welcome, Dr. Faw. Thanks for speaking with us today. Thank you for having me. I’m really excited to be here to talk with you. OK, great. So one question I had was what type of conflicts do parents usually have? Yeah, that’s a great question. And so when we’re thinking about conflict between parents and conflict within the family, it’s important to realize that families are multi-dimensional and that there are many relationships in families. So if we’re talking specifically about parents, some of the research about the type of conflict that happens with parents actually says that the most common thing parents fight about with each other is nothing.

Skip to 0 minutes and 38 seconds We have these sort of meaningless, mundane moments where maybe somebody says something a little bit too sharply or we misinterpret what they’re trying to say, and suddenly we have a conflict. Those moments where we actually sit down to have a very difficult conversation about something like finances or parenting, those don’t actually happen very often. Most often, the conflict that we’re having is about these very mundane, meaningless topics. And so when it comes to thinking about conflict within the parents, unfortunately, that’s kind of where most of our conflict comes from, is having just these moments where things don’t quite go the way we thought that they would. How do parents and families typically resolve these conflicts? Yeah, that’s a great question.

Skip to 1 minute and 13 seconds And so when it comes to thinking about the way we resolve conflicts, there’s one theory that breaks down our attempts at conflict conversations and resolutions along two dimensions. So the first dimension is the dimension of conversation. So are we addressing these things openly, are we having a dialogue about them. And then the other dimension is conformity. Are we expecting people in the family to just fall in line. There is an authority figure, they make the decision, and what their decision is kind of goes. So you can imagine, depending on where your family falls in those dimensions, your approaches at resolution are going to be really different.

Skip to 1 minute and 43 seconds If you’re in a high conversation, low conformity family, the way you’re going to resolve conflict is through open conversation. And everybody’s going to have input in terms of what they think the right solution is, and ultimately everybody ends up feeling a sense of buy-in when it comes to what that solution is. On the flip side, if you’re in a family where there’s low conversation and high conformity, there’s going to be one decision-maker. They’re going to decide what the appropriate resolution for the conflict is, and then what they say goes.

Skip to 2 minutes and 7 seconds And there’s not going to be a lot of opportunity for people to have their own input or to even really sort of challenge or resist a solution that they may feel like is unfair or disadvantageous for them. OK. And what is the difference between a constructive and destructive type of conflict resolution? Yeah, absolutely. So when we think about constructive conflict resolution, I like to think about it in terms of who we’re advocating for. So when it comes to constructive conflict resolution, we are advocating for ourselves and for the needs that we have, and we’re also advocating for the other person, or we’re also recognizing their needs.

Skip to 2 minutes and 40 seconds So when we’re engaged in a constructive conflict, we’re focused on the things that we need out of the conflict, as well as the things the other person needs. And we’re focused on sort of establishing empathy. Even though we may be or having a difficult moment with this person, we still recognize that we care about them, that we respect them, and that we love them. That’s what leads to a constructive conflict. And ultimately, it’s what leads to more collaborative solutions where, even though we’re fighting, we’re still on the same team, and we’re coming up with solutions that make us both feel satisfied. In destructive conflict, what happens is I’m either just advocating for myself or I’m just advocating for you.

Skip to 3 minutes and 15 seconds So neither one of those is very healthy. If I am sort of being very competitive and only making sure my needs are met, that’s going to leave you feeling really sort of isolated and hurt. On the other hand, if I’m always just giving you what you want, if I’m always making sure that your needs are met, that’s not going to be very sustainable for our relationship, in that things are going to be pretty unequal and, ultimately, it’s just not going to be very fair to me. I’m not going to be very satisfied. So destructive conflict is when we’re really not working as a team. I’m only advocating for one half of our relationship, be it you or be it me.

Skip to 3 minutes and 47 seconds And ultimately, we come up with solutions that really only meet the needs of one person. And so what effect does the conflict and how parents handle that conflict, what effect does that have on the children and what they perceive? Well, the research on this is pretty clear. There is a huge impact of parental conflict and the way parents manage conflict within themselves on children in the home. And so there’s been some really interesting research that shows that children who come from families where there’s a lot of destructive conflict, where things are sort of very not even physically aggressive, but a lot of verbal aggression, they tend to have pretty strong physiological or stress reactions to conflict.

Skip to 4 minutes and 26 seconds It is not good for their health. And it also doesn’t equip them with the tools that they need to be successful conflict managers in their own lives. And so there’s a huge body of research that says the way parents do that is really important. And one of the things that I think parents may not think about very much when it comes to the way they manage conflict is one of the most damaging behaviors that a parent can do for their child when managing conflict is to make their child end up stuck in the middle. So a lot of parents make inappropriate disclosures.

Skip to 4 minutes and 53 seconds They sort of make comments or say things to their children, or even ask their children to serve as a communication mediator between the parents. And that is incredibly difficult and damaging for children to do. It put them in a really hard place where they really can’t win, because the parent is basically saying, you either love me and do the things that I ask you to and are on my side, or you love your other parent and are on their side. And that’s a really hard spot for a child to be in.

Conflict Resolution and Children

There are many ways that conflicts can be handled in families, some constructive and some destructive. In this interview with Dr. Meara Faw, we will learn about what families often fight about and how to best manage conflict when it arises. Dr. Faw is an Assistant Professor in the Relating and Organizing Area at Colorado State University. Her research interests include how the relationships we have with friends and family affect our health and well-being at multiple levels.

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