Teaching While Resolving Conflict

It All Began With A Cake

I had been craving for a chocolate cheesecake for quite some time. So the day before Mother’s Day, I told my teens that I would like to have a chocolate cheesecake to celebrate Mother’s Day. I even found a simple no-bake recipe and sent it to them. (I have realised that subtlety is frequently lost on teens. I need to be direct and specific to get what I want.)

Thankfully, they sprung into action and got busy with the cheesecake.  After putting the cake together, they left it in the fridge to chill overnight, in preparation for Mother’s Day celebration.

When my teens served it after dinner the next day, my 17-year old exclaimed, “That went well!” and my 14-year-old agreed with her brother.  I added, “Wow, that looks great!” But my little 6-year-old took one look at it and said, “That didn’t turn out well.”

My 14-year-old took offense at that. “What do you mean it didn’t turn out well?”  she asked incredulously.

And the evening went downhill after that.  Tears flowed because the 14-year-old was hurt by her sister’s critical remark while the 6-year-old was upset that her sister had challenged her opinion.

Who’s Right and Who’s Wrong?

Well, in my opinion, both were wrong.  

My littlest one had lacked tact in her comments and had hurt her sister.  My teen girl was too thin-skinned to take a critical remark despite getting good comments from her brother and me. 

Yet at the same time, both were right! 

My 6-year-old had probably based her impression of how the cake would look from what she had seen from the online recipe.  THAT cake had frosting and strawberries as well as chocolate drizzle on it. So comparing THAT with the decoration-free cake made by her siblings, it would be fair to say the actual cake “didn’t turn out well”.  

Similarly, my 14-year-old was right to insist the cake had turned out well because the teens had not intended to frost the cake, nor did they manage to buy strawberries to adorn the cake. They had intended to present a plain chocolate cheesecake and, as far as that went, the cake turned out really good!

What Caused This Conflict?

1) Expectations
Both my 14-year-old and 6-year-old had different expectations as illustrated above. And because of that difference, there was disagreement.

2) Focus
My 6-year-old was focused on how pretty the cake should look instead of focusing on the effort that her siblings had put in to make the cake on short notice. My 14-year-old was focused on the negative comment from her younger sister instead of the positive comments from her mother, the recipient of the cake, and her older brother. 

3) Carried Over Emotion
Prior to making the cake, my 14-year-old was, as usual, playing “mom” to her little sister, correcting the little one, telling her what to do, etc. Understandably, that did not go down well with the little one.  So she harboured some animosity towards her older sister. When presented with an opportunity to hurt with a negative comment, she grabbed it whole-heartedly.

Was she right to do so?  No. But was it understandable why she did it?  Yes.

How to Resolve This?

As with all conflict, we can always choose the punitive way or the loving way.  Of course, there is a third choice, which is to ignore it. Knowing me, I chose the loving way.  But for the sake of understanding, let us look at the impact or consequences of the other ways as well.

a) The Punitive Way
If I had chosen to reprimand the girls for their behaviour, I would have only focused on how they were wrong, that one was rude and the other was too thin-skinned. Both of them would have felt invalidated. The 6-year-old would learn it didn’t pay to be honest.  The 14-year-old would learn it was not ok to feel hurt by hurtful comments from someone whom she loves dearly.

Obviously, those were not the lessons I wanted my girls to get out of this conflict. 

Moreover, if I had opted for the punitive way, both would feel I was unfair, that I had obviously ignored the “wrong” done by the other party. That would breed their resentment towards me. Both would feel I was siding with the other party. 

2) Ignore It
If I had chosen to ignore it, I would be tacitly agreeing with what both were doing. They would both stand firm that they were right and the other party was wrong. And that would breed resentment towards the other for the perceived attack.

Furthermore, they would be upset with me for not putting the other person right. Since I did not reprimand them, they must be right, which means the other person was in the wrong. And, by their logic, if the other person were wrong, then I, as Mom, must correct that person. If I kept quiet, then I would also be in the wrong! And their resentment towards me would grow.

Obviously, breeding resentment was not one of my goals in building strong relationships within the family.

3) The Loving Way
What is the “loving” way?  To me, it is one where we help one another see others’ perspectives so they can each can agree or come to the conclusion the mistakes they have made.  

This was what I did to resolve their conflict.

I started by telling my 6-year-old that I thought the cake turned out really well because it was something her siblings had whipped up on short notice.  I agreed with her it would have looked nicer if her siblings had had time and the frosting and strawberries to decorate the cake, but because they didn’t, the cake was as great as it could have looked.  More importantly, it was the tastiest chocolate cheesecake I had ever had.  Hence, to me, the cake was a huge success.

With that, my 14-year-old was able to understand the “standard” her sister was using when she had made that hurtful comment.  It helped to somewhat soothe how she had felt.  

To help diffuse the tense situation further, I turned to my 14-year-old, looked her in the eye and told her all I wanted was a plain chocolate cheesecake and I got my wish. To me, the cake was a success because it was also extremely tasty. I added that she could choose to focus on what her little sister had said about the cake, or what her brother and I, the recipient of her gift, had felt about the cake. I acknowledged that she had felt hurt because she loved her sister dearly and the latter’s comments mattered to her.  I also added that I agreed with her that the little one could have been more tactful in her comment but seeing that she was but a 6-year-old, tact would be a difficult quality for her to possess. Hence, all of us needed to work harder to model tact for her to learn.

That helped my 14-year-old recalibrate what she could choose to hear: the praises or the criticism.  She realised her cake WAS a success (she had said so herself before her sister’s negative comment) and it did not matter what her sister had said. It also helped her realise that our every comment to one another was an opportunity to model tact and if she wanted tact from her sister, she needed to speak with tact as well.

As for the little one, she realised she was the “odd-one-out” thinking the cake was not a success.  It also helped her see she was being tactless in her comment and that she still had lots of room to learn how to be tactful. 

Doing what I did helped my girls reflect what they could each improve upon.  They did not feel “invalidated” as their “erroneous ways” were based on understandable reasons. But they knew what they could work on to become better and more loving towards each other. More importantly, they understood each other slightly better as a result of this conflict resolution.

Why Is This Important?

This is but a typical small conflict within any family.  Some may feel it’s not something worth blogging about.  But what triggered me to write about it was I realised the way we parents handle any conflict amongst our children will make a huge difference on how everyone feels about everyone.  

If we handle conflicts amongst the children in the punitive way, not only would that breed resentment in the children towards one other, it would also lead to our children resenting us, the parents, for being unfair! 

The same applies if we choose to ignore the conflicts. By not doing anything about something that we know about that is wrong, we are actually communicating something.  We are actually silently screaming to our kids, “IT’S OK! YOU ARE RIGHT! CARRY ON!” Like the punitive way, our children will resent one another and us because they don’t see us correcting the other party.

By choosing to resolve conflicts lovingly, we can help everyone see different perspectives.  We help our children develop empathy. With time and constant modeling from us, they will grow to develop the ability to see the “bigger” picture.  

And if I may add, it trains us to go beyond their conflict and allows us the breathing space decode their behaviour instead. We stop seeing our children as being naughty or rude or overly sensitive. We see them as children who have room for growth and development. We begin to accept them as children who are reacting based on their understanding and capability to control themselves. And THAT helps us regulate OUR blood pressure so we will not get triggered easily by their conflicts. That, in turn, allows us to discipline and guide our children with patience and love.

More Lessons

Was that the end of the episode?  No, not really.

My 14-year-old came to me at bedtime and had a long chat with me about how she had felt about her sister’s comment.  So I reiterated everything I had said earlier.  I also told her that we were all one another’s teachers.  

Whenever someone triggers us, there is something we need to learn from there. We can go beyond the incident and look deeper into why the other person is doing what he/she is doing. When we do that, we can grow our empathy. OR we can look deeper into ourselves and see why we react the way we do thereby growing our self-awareness.  OR we can do both and grow even faster!

In her case, the reason why she felt so hurt was because of her need to be perfect. That is why even though the majority of us had told her the cake was successful, she only heard the negative comment and took that to heart instead.  Hence for her, her lesson could be she needed to feel she was good enough. Even if there were room for improvement, she was good enough at that point in time with what she knew and what she had. The thing is this. Nobody is perfect. That is a fact. The sooner she acknowledges she is NOT perfect and can never be, the more she will be open and less offended when someone shows her where she can improve. If anything, she needs to be grateful to that person for helping her become a better person!

I am extremely grateful to have had that conversation with her because every time I “teach” that, I remind myself not to be prickly when someone criticises me. Yes, I too suffer from the syndrome of “being Ms Perfect”.  And I suspect most people suffer the same…

What about my 6-year-old? Well, I had a conversation with her the next day sharing with her how much her sister loved her and how her comment had hurt her sister. Then I asked her how would she feel if she had put in a lot of effort making something and someone just told her, “It didn’t turn out well.” She replied, “Sad.” I followed up with my favourite question, “What do you think you need to do now?”

And she went and gave her sister a hug and said, “I am sorry.” And her sister replied, “It’s ok. I love you.”

I love teaching with love. No accusations, no blaming, no tears.

Happy Parenting!!

Read more about improving relationships between siblings:

8 Ways to Help Siblings Get Along

What To Do When Kids Fight?

Say “NO” to Worry and Guilt

I recently read an article written by a friend titled, “Mothers, Thy Name Is Worry” in the latest issue of Penang Monthly. In it, he shared how his mom worries about her children from the time of conception till now (this friend of mine is in his 60s). 

And I realise he is right. We moms are worriers. We worry when our kids eat too much or too little, sleep too much or too little. We worry when they have too many friends, or too few friends. We worry when they focus too much on schoolwork or too little… When they do well in X, we worry they are not thriving in Y. When they grow up, we worry about the jobs they have, the partners they find, the lives they live. When they start their families, we worry about their children, and sometimes their financial situation.  It’s almost never ending…

The problem with WORRY is it always comes with a companion by the name GUILT.

We feel guilty letting our kids eat too much or too little, sleep too much or too little. We feel guilty allowing them to spend too much or too little time with friends. We feel guilty that we did not help them be “well-balanced” if they focus too much on schoolwork or too little… When they do well in X, we feel guilty not helping them thrive in Y.

Working moms feel guilty not spending enough time with their children. Stay-at-home moms feel guilty losing their patience and tempers at their children throughout the day.  

We feel guilty sending the kids to too many enrichment programs because we know they need breathers yet the fear of not keeping up make us continue signing them up for classes. We feel guilty NOT sending the kids to enough or any enrichment programs because we fear they are losing out, yet our belief that kids need free time stop us from signing them up for classes. We feel guilty giving them “junk” food. We feel guilty using screentime as a babysitter. We feel guilty when something bad happens to our child, believing we could have done more to prevent it from happening, or feeling bad we fail to realise our child is experiencing problems. We feel guilty for not having done a good job guiding and teaching them If our child does something wrong or faces difficulties overcoming a challenge. The list goes on.

When will enough be enough? When will we moms realise that WORRY and GUILT are NOT badges of honour? That WORRY and GUILT are not “proofs” that we love our children? That they are, instead, stopping us from fully enjoying our motherhood?

Today is Mother’s Day. My wish to ALL mothers and mothers-to-be is that WE will be able to STOP worrying and feeling guilty. Why? Because WORRY drains us and GUILT eats us up. It’s time to say NO to them.

How?

Simple. We start by decoding what WORRY and GUILT are. Then we will realise they are not productive emotions.

Decoding and Dealing with WORRY

WORRY is merely a feeling of anxiety about something that has yet to happen. If there is something we can do about what we are worrying about, then we do not need to worry. If there is nothing we can do about what we are worrying about, then there is no point worrying since it will not help with anything except rob us of peace and enjoyment of the moment. 

So when you start worrying, ask yourself, “Is there anything I can do about it?”

If the answer is yes, then determine what it is you can do and do it. If the answer is no, then tell yourself, “There’s no point worrying. Just need to be prepared for whatever that happens.” Remind yourself that worrying WILL NOT change the outcome of whatever it is you are worrying about.

Decoding and Dealing with GUILT

Guilt is feeling bad about something that has happened in the past. There is no way we can go back and change it. Feeling guilty does not change what has happened. Instead of feeling guilty, we can work on what needs to be improved so the same mistake will not happen again, or we can come to terms with whatever decisions we have already made and executed.

So when you start feeling guilty, tell yourself, “I can’t change the past. Is there anything I can do to make amends or to prevent the same thing from happening again?”

If the answer is yes, then determine what it is you can do and do it. It is unlikely the answer will be no, because even if you cannot do anything to make things better, there is always a lesson you can learn that will help you make better decisions or take better actions in the future. Just remind yourself that feeling guilty WILL NOT change what has happened.

How to Lead a Blissful Life

We need to strive to let go and let it be. As the song “Que Sera Sera” goes, “Whatever will be, will be.”

We are not perfect. Given the number of “active” tabs we moms have open in our brains, we already have so much on our minds at the same time. No matter how hard we work or how much scenario planning we do and have Plans A, B, C,..to Z, we can NEVER fix everything. We need to stop worrying or feeling guilty for having done X or for not doing Y. 

We need to love and accept ourselves, and acknowledge that we are all doing our best with the knowledge and resources we have at the moment. When we do that, we won’t feel weighed down for everything we have done, or will do, nor we feel laden for every decision we have made or will make. Then we can be fully present for our family and enjoy them. And it is being present that we can find BLISS.

Happy BLISSFUL Mother’s Day

Here’s wishing all Moms a Happy BLISSFUL Mother’s Day and a Happy BLISSFUL EVER AFTER. Let’s bid “worry” and “guilt” goodbye and resolve to keep them out of our lives.

Happy Parenting!!