Make Your Home a No-Fault Zone

Adapted from Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids: 7 Keys to Turn Family Conflicts into Cooperation

By Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson

Conflict has gotten a bad rap. It is usually considered something to be avoided. Parents often think that something’s wrong with them or with their family when conflicts arise.

Yet, wherever people meet, there are going to be some clashes — some occasions when you bump into each other in the hallway of life. Learning how to move around — and with — each other at these moments will serve you and your children now and for the rest of your life-long family relationship.

The most common family conflicts everywhere have to do with ordinary, daily situations — bedtimes and rising times, sharing toys and household chores, what to buy at the store, and when and how to get out the door in the morning. These every day occurrences don’t have to become conflicts. They can be viewed as puzzles or problems to solve. Disagreements and clashes can be chances for family members to reevaluate and explore opportunities for them to learn more about each other.

What stands in the way of seeing daily differences as problems to solve rather than conflict? Fear. Specifically, the fear that “I’m not going to be able to meet my needs.”

Fear leads to anger, defensiveness or aggression. It is when all family members trust that their needs matter and will be addressed, that the fear, tension, anger, and defensiveness surrounding every day interactions begins to dissolve. Only then will you be able to welcome differences as problems to solve and opportunities to deepen family connections.

The truth is, it takes only one person to avert conflict. By developing your skills and holding this trust for your family, you can be the one to allay fears and prevent, reduce, and resolve conflict in your home.

Take a Time In

Here’s a story of how one father who practices NVC averted conflict. Rather than letting his fears turn to anger, he chose to focus on his son’s and his own needs.

Dale came home from work, and before he was through the door, his four-year-old son, Stevie, bounced up to greet him, grabbing hold of his pant leg and exclaiming, “Daddy, daddy, come play with me!” Dale immediately put his hand out to get some distance between them.

“Not right now. Daddy’s tired. I can play later.” Feeling resistance, Stevie jumped up and down, insisting. Dale reacted in kind, repeating his message with increased firmness. “I said, not right now. I’ll play with you later.”

Then Dale stopped. He noticed how uptight he was feeling, and how sad, too, to feel and hear his negative response to Stevie’s exuberance and eagerness to play with him. He knew he didn’t want to continue that way, so he took a couple of deep breaths, and took a Time In to connect with his feelings and needs.

… Hmmm … I’m feeling afraid. I see I’m worried I won’t get a chance to wash up and unwind. I’m needing to protect myself, so I can shift my energy and relax. I really want to connect and play with Stevie …

Feeling more self-connected, Dale turned to his son with a proposal: “Hey, Stevie, I see you are really ready to play. And I’d like to play with you, too. I’d also like to change my clothes and wash up a bit. I have an idea. How about we sit on the couch for five minutes and you tell me all about your day? Then I’ll go do the things I need to do before we play. What do you say?”

Stevie responded, “How long will it take, Dad?” And Dale replied, “I estimate 15 minutes. Shall we time it?”

This dad’s ability to get into a problem-solving conversation with his son, rather than into a conflict, is what made all the difference. When Dale noticed his fear that his need for relaxation wouldn’t be met, he made a strategic choice: to stop going with the fear, and instead, take a Time In.

Trust That Your Needs Can Get Met

What makes it so difficult to trust that your needs can get met? If you have a backlog of experiences in which your needs were not met, you may doubt that they ever can or will be met in the future. Trust will grow, however, when you take responsibility for your needs and take daily actions to fulfill them. As you develop more skills for meeting your own needs, the fear, anger, defensiveness, and reactivity will subside.

Children also have fears about getting their needs met — fears that lead to anger and defensiveness. Working together to recognize needs and find ways to meet them reduces anxiety and conflict.

With more confidence that your needs can be met and that you can help your kids meet theirs, you’ll show your family a less reactive side of yourself. The surprising benefits? You’ll see beyond the specific behaviors that scare and irritate you. You’ll have a better understanding of yourself and your kids. You’ll be steadier and calmer more of the time. Your kids might do the same things they have always done — however, your eyes and ears will see and hear differently, allowing you to respond to their needs rather than react to their behavior.

When your kids trust that their needs matter to you, they will also relax and react less. And as this trust builds, you will experience another wonderful surprise – your kids want to co-operate with you to meet your needs and find ways to live together that work for everyone.

When You’re Lost, Find Your Way Back to the No-Fault Zone

When you find yourself charged and in the battle zone with your child — feeling upset, afraid or angry; raising your voice, arguing, name-calling or blaming — we hope you’ll remember that there is another place you could be. Just remembering that place exists can help you change direction: from Battle Zone to the No-Fault Zone.

First, Hit the Pause Button. Stop doing anything you will regret later.

Next, Regain Equilibrium. Take some deep breaths, go for a walk or a run, do yoga, or get empathy from a friend.

Take a Time In as soon as possible. Connect with your feelings and needs.

Finally, Reconnect with Your Intention and Purpose for how you want to interact with your children.

Make your next move from that place.

You can help your children redirect their energy when they are spinning out of control by coaching them through these same moves. At non-charged moments, or during family meetings, go over the steps and explore activities to regain equilibrium so you and they can operate from choice more and more often.

We believe that if you can envision a place where respect and cooperation reign, you are on your way to creating it. If you have a deep longing for connection and harmony, you are on your way to bringing it into being.

To practice the skills developed in Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids and learn NVC as a family, Sura and Victoria offer The No-Fault Game, which can be viewed and ordered on their Web site: Sura and Victoria’s new book, The No-Fault Classroom: Tools to Resolve Conflict and Foster Relationship Intelligence, a 21-week program to introduce teachers and students to the basic skills of NVC, will be released by PuddleDancer Press in spring 2008.

Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson are coauthors of The Compassionate ClassroomRespectful Parents, Respectful Kids, and The No-Fault Classroom, as well as creators of The No-Fault Game. They bring a combined 45 years of elementary teaching and parent education experience to their work. As cofounders of Kindle-Hart Communication, they’ve been developing and facilitating parent and teacher education workshops together for over 20 years