Room for settling conflict

Enforcing a ceasefire and self-regulated dispute resolution

“Staff members are strongly encouraged to first try and solve a dispute through informal channels…Resolving disputes through negotiation, mediation and other alternative means is usually quicker, and often proves to be less stressful and less cumbersome…” A guide to resolving disputes, Administration of Justice in the United Nations (2009).

It was a busy few weeks leading up to the end of the academic year for our children. Mixed emotions filled the air. There was weariness from jam-packed school days and weekends of performance rehearsals. Alongside this, the delight of anticipating a long summer break and the sorrow from having to bid farewell to departing classmates. We experienced some tranquil post school afternoons, as each found their own corner of our home to reflect on memories or rehearse for upcoming exhibitions. In contrast, some days had an atmosphere that was volatile, where I found myself playing moderator to outbursts when moods caused spectacular collisions of sentiment.

While I sat finishing my week’s course assignment over a weekend, I was rudely interrupted with shouting: “Mom! Did you just see what she did? Did you hear what she said? MOM!” I stood up. I had no desire to referee any more disputes, incapable of mustering patient parenting practices. I summoned them all into my bedroom. Exasperated, I barked, “You are all going to stay in here for however long it takes to work it out. These few weeks, there have been so many tiffs. You are going to listen respectfully to each other, understand how the other person is feeling. Scream, yell, I really don’t care! Come to some sort of resolution about how you are to exist together in this home peacefully. Do you hear me?!” I stormed out the room, pulled the door closed and returned to writing my assignment.

It was twenty-five minutes since I had left them to reconcile when I heard my bedroom door open and footsteps heading towards me. While concerned and curious, I resisted the temptation to insist on a post mortem. They needed time to consolidate and take ownership of whatever resolution they arrived at. In the next few hours, I observed their interaction. The ambience had transformed; they were gently cordial, almost affectionate and even helpful to one another.

I eventually interviewed them separately about their experience and conflict resolution process. This is what I learnt. Behind closed doors, after a period of silence, they took turns to voice their grievances to each other. While one spoke, the others grudgingly paid attention. Upon individual reflection, they admitted to paying attention to each other’s reactions, listening and eventually discussing their varied perspectives. In closing, they made commitments to each other to “be less annoying” and “set a better example”.  They proposed self-help strategies to manage moments of overwhelming emotions, such as walking away or taking time out for some deep breaths.

Each child confessed to me that this closed room discussion invoked self-realisations. One acknowledged that her siblings “are hurtful to me because I can sometimes be purposely hurtful to them”. Another child made a reluctant comment towards self-improvement after hearing her siblings’ perspective. I feel slightly more equipped for more misbehaviour over the long summer break. Gladly, I now know we are armed with at least one resolution technique! I will just usher them into a room, shut the door and convene a “three-in-a-room” session.

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