Making amends

Johanna’s ordeal for having broken the school rules is not quite over yet. Of the three steps of designated consequences (which take a lunch recess each) they have gone through steps one and two: understanding and admitting that they had done wrong and telling about it to their parents in writing. The third step is making amends. The girls have to come up with a list of what they might do to make the junior students in year 1 feel safe again. The principal will then select which one of the proposed amends seems most reasonable and organise for the girls to make these amends. We talked to him this morning and he said the girls will probably be placed in the year 1 classroom to help out and thus have a chance to befriend the kids there.

Being able to solve conflicts in a constructive way is a very important life skill. It is not parental conflict per se, but unresolved parental conflict that is detrimental to children’s mental health, social skills, and academic success (Cabrera, 2012). Whether it is icy silence or the banging of doors, unresolved conflict poisons the air of any home. If there is also violence in the family the consequences for children are dire. All sorts of mental health problems, worse academic achievement, being an offender or victim of bullying, and a detrimental internal model of close relationships are clearly associated with children’s experience of domestic violence, even if they themselves are not victims. It is therefore in the best interest of every child to learn acceptable ways of resolving a conflict so they can become responsible adults and parents. The beauty of making amends is that it makes everyone feel better. There is no evidence to support humiliating treatment, such as the “naughty chair” or forcing the child to say “sorry”, when in fact the only thing they can think of is revenge. But making amends can be very empowering.

A lot of adults would be so much better off if they had these life skills. On my walks along our beach promenade I often overhear conversations that reflect the lack of such strategies. “He knew exactly what he was doing and now he has ruined our relationship”, a woman said to her friend while they pushed their prams along the path. “If you are in love you should go to the church and not to the city council”, a young woman cried as she rose and left her (ex?)partner sitting, stunned, on the bench. Many such couples would be doing so much better if they had access to some effective tools.

The Preparation and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP) developed by Markman, Stanley & Blumberg and described in the book Fighting for your marriage, offers such tools. The concept builds on research that certain behaviours in a couple, namely defensiveness, stubbornness, and withdrawal from interaction, are especially detrimental for the relationship on the long run (Gottman, 1989 ). In PREP couples learn other, more constructive strategies. A skill that many couples remember a long time after they have been to the course (Engsheden, Bokström, Fabian & Sarkadi, 2013) is the speaker-listener technique. In case of the young woman wanting to have their wedding in a church it could have sounded like this with the woman taking responsibility for her own feelings as a start:

–       I feel very strongly that marriage as an expression of real love should happen in a church and not at the city council. As long as I can remember I have dreamed of a beautiful ceremony at the church. I feel upset when I hear you say the city council would be your preference.

In the next step, the partner shows he has listened actively:

–       So marriage in a church is something really important to you and it upsets you when I say that I would prefer just going to the city council.

In the next step, she should acknowledge this and invite him to express his opnion:

–       Exactly, that’s exactly how I feel. So what do you feel about this?

–       Well, I really don’t have any kind of meaningful relationship to the church and for me it feels pretentious to have my wedding there.

It is now her turn to show that she has listened actively:

–       So you don’t have any real connection with the church and it doesn’t feel right for you to marry there because of that.

And on it goes. You may try this at home…

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