Column: Fighting fair when resolving conflict

Aerial Liese
The Daily Times

It's inevitable! Every relationship experiences conflict, and, for most of us, it creates discomfort. If handled appropriately, though, conflict can actually strengthen relationships between friends and siblings.

When conflicts arise between your kids, to make the most of the scuffle, use it as an opportunity to coach them through constructive conflict — teaching them how to fight fair, molding valuable negotiation and compromise skills. Listed are several basic rules of engagement to model, explain and enforce:

Implement "Kafhooty": Kafhooty looks like a crazy mixed-up word, but if you have school-age children, they've probably heard it. It stands for "keep all feet, hands and other objects to yourself." A child practicing kafhooty is less likely to lash out or hurt other children. This covers everything from covert pinching, poking to conking a sibling on the head with a plastic toy. One of the first things to teach a child is that getting physical to resolve conflict is never acceptable.

Stick to the facts: The surest way to destroy any relationship is to dissolve trust by watering down or exaggerating the truth. Make it crystal clear to your children that bending or twisting the truth is lying and isn't acceptable.

Avoid absolutes: Going to extremes when arguing is easy to do. Lines like, "You always ... " or, "You never ..." seem to roll off the tongue in the heat of the moment. In reality, the statements are simply not true.

No blame shifting: Statements such as, "I'm trying to be patient here, but I'm not getting much help from you" is blame shifting. Explain to your children that resolving conflict isn't about who's right or who's wrong. It's about cooperatively resolving the issue without casting guilt.

Throw out threats: Sentences that start out with, "How would you like it if I ... ?" or "How would you feel if ... ?" have no part in fair fighting.

Don't raise your voice: Yelling only escalates matters. If you sense your child is agitated and about to blow, have her step away and cool down. Clarify why taking deep breaths and putting her emotions in check before speaking or acting are important to appropriately resolving conflict.

Use appropriate language: Let your child know there is zero tolerance for name-calling or hurtful words. Words such as stupid, shut up and dumb go on this list, too. This may seem like a tall order for an upset child, but if you model it, they will learn.

Everyone talks: Role play letting one person speak at a time, and enforce no interrupting. When one child speaks, the other should be listening evident by eye contact and appropriate body language. Have your children take turns speaking and listening so they both have a chance to say what they want to say.

Stay out of the past: Help your child stay in the present and resist the temptation to use the situation as a time to bring up squabbles from last week. If your child gets off topic, remind him of what is being discussed and get him back on track.

Use 'I' statements: An "I" message is a statement of how you feel when something happens. It doesn't assign blame; it doesn't accuse. An example of an "I" message might be, "The picture is broken. I really liked that picture because my grandmother gave it to me when I was young. I am very sad it is broken."

Practice listening: Absolutely nothing gets solved if everyone is talking or shouting over each other. That means that you, the parent, must listen to what every child involved is saying. Model for all parties how to listen and how to respond to what is said. It can be vital to solving problems to hear all parts of what is going on.

Aerial Liese has been an educator for more than 15 years. She has three children and is the author of four books. She is an educational doctorate student and teaches at San Juan College. Contact her at 505-258-1029 or go to