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Solving Problems with Non-Violent Confrontation

By Jean Fisher

This is the story of a busy family, maybe a lot like yours. They are a happy family, but every once in a while they experience moments of conflict.

"Hey everybody, the coach passed out the swim meet schedule today", Shane was out of breath as he ran toward the car, his hair still wet from practice.

"Get in the car. We'll look at your schedule when we get home. Sarah has her dance recital announcement too, we can write everything down on the calendar." Mom smiled at her talented children in the rearview mirror as she drove toward home.

"Here let me see your schedule", Sarah snatched the paper out of Shane's hand in a typical little-sister fashion.

"Oh, no! Mom! Shane has a swim meet on the day of my recital. At the same time!"

"That is a problem, isn't it?"

"Give that back. Let me see." Shane snatched the paper back out of Sarah's hands (in a typical big-brother fashion). "Which day?"

"Here." Sarah pointed.

Oh no! Mom! That is the match with Victor's team. I'm going to beat him this year, I just know it! You and Dad have to be there to see it!

"Hmmm, I'm not sure how we are going to solve this problem, but I do know that we have to wait until we get home. A moving vehicle is not a good place for arguing." Mom shot her stern look at the two scowling children.

Each child wants both parents at his or her special event. This is an example of conflict over limited resources.

Discuss Feelings

Back home, Dad joined Mom and the kids for a serious discussion. "First of all, Mom and I want you to know that we understand how upset you both of you are. Of course, you want your parents to experience your moments of glory with you. But, you also need to understand that this is a bad situation for us big folks, too. It would break our hearts to ever have one of you believe that we thought the other's activities were more important than yours."

Listen to the other person's point of view

"But Dad, Shane has 10 swim meets this season. Dance class only holds one or two recitals a year! That should make my event more important."

"I know what you are saying is true, Sarah", said Shane. But, this is a special meet. Victor has beaten me every year, and at practice, my times have been so great that I just know I will win this year. Your dancing isn't a race or anything. Nobody wins any ribbons or trophies." He used his most reasonable voice and glanced out of the corner of his eye hoping his parents had noticed.

Mom did notice and hid her smile at his veiled attempt at manipulating things in his favor. She then turned a patient face toward Sarah who had sprouted some tears (a not-so-veiled attempt of manipulation). "Yes, Sarah, we know that you are unhappy, but we need clear heads not emotions if we are going to find a solution to this problem."

Understand that people don't always agree on everything

"But it's not fair! He has nine other meets you can both watch. I only have the one dance!"

"Sarah, Shane feels just as strongly about this meet as you do about your recital, Dad said. "You don't have to understand why he feels that way, you just have to accept the fact that he does."

Look for creative solutions

"Brainstorm time", Mom declared. "Put on your thinking hats, we need some ideas here."

"I do have an idea, Shane announced. "Sarah will have a dress rehearsal for the dance, right?"

"Yes, that's right."

"Well then, you and Dad could go to the dress rehearsal and then my meet and see them both."

"That's a very creative solution, Shane, said Mom as she put her arm around a fuming Sarah, "but I don't think it is the answer to our problem. A dress rehearsal really isn't the same as the performance itself"

"Thanks, Mom", Sarah lost some of her stiffness and started thinking, too. "We could film them for everyone to watch."

"Another fantastic idea, but since we only have one camera we are back to the same dilemma, Dad said. "Who gets filmed and who doesn't".

"Oh, yeah."

Everyone was quiet, thinking. Shane twiddled his thumbs.

Dad broke the silence by joking, "Hey, Shane wasn't that Science project you did last year on cloning? It is the only way I can see how one person can be in two places at the same time."

Two places at the same time"hmmm. Shane stared hard at his revolving thumbs as an idea started forming in his mind. Soon everyone was watching those thumbs go round and round, first one way and then the other.

"No", he said, "not at the same time, but one and then the other".

"You mean a compromise", said Mom following his thoughts.

"That's it! Sarah jumped into the conversation excitedly. "Each of you could go to one of the events and then halfway through switch places."

Weigh possible outcomes

"Sounds like a good idea to me", Dad smiled at his children. "You get equal amounts of Mom and Dad without cutting us into two. There is something you need to consider first, he said more seriously, "each of us will miss part of each event. I might or might not get to see Shane beat Victor. Mom might or might not get to see Sarah's perfect pirouette."

"Yeah, we know", Shane and Sarah said at the same time and grinned at each other.

Finalize the decision

"Okay then, I'll take Shane to his swim meet and then end up at Sarah's dance", Dad said. "That way I can gallantly present the Prima Donna with her flowers after the show."

"You're getting me flowers? Sarah flung herself into her father's arms.

"Perfect, that leaves me with Mom for the traditional after-meet ice cream, Shane declared. "I'll not only be the fastest swimmer, I'll also be the guy with the prettiest mother."

"Thanks, said Mom, "and yes, I'll let you get two scoops of ice cream."

Following the above steps when solving problems through confrontation gives the proper respect to everyone's point of view and increases the likelihood of reaching a win/win solution. I hope it works as well for your family as it did for Shane and Sarah's family.

About The Author
Jean Fisher is a former elementary school teacher. Her website>What's For Dinner?

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