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Home is where family members want to forget about outside difficulties and pressure, but sometimes it can be a breeding ground for disputes. Imagine a husband returning from work to hear the children shouting and his wife complaining about their poor schoolwork. Add pressure from tight family finances and disputes are likely to arise.

The first reaction often is to blame someone else for problems, saying things like: ‘you haven’t done your homework’ (mother), ‘why don’t you help now that you’re home’ (wife), ‘why can’t you handle the kids [in a proper way?]’ (husband) or ‘you never care how I feel’ (children).

We have to think of ways to stop these family disputes and bring peace, or else the way of communication will remain unchanged. If we didn’t begin sentences with ‘why don’t you…’ and instead started with ‘I…’ – as in ‘I’d like you to work harder on your homework’ or ‘I’d like you to help with the housework’ – it would diffuse anger and give the other person an opening to express their feelings.

Here are some suggestions to help people cool down, which can be useful in family communication and other forms of social interaction.

  1. Ceasefire – Stop emotional responses once we start to show negative feelings like anger or worry. Say to oneself: ‘Stop! This can’t go on.’Take the initiative and don’t expect others to stop first.
  2. Find space – Negative emotions can lead to mood fluctuations and make people feel physically unwell. Take a few deep breaths, and if possible leave the scene to give both sides space. And of course explain that you are leaving to calm down and not to escape.
  3. What next? – With space to cool down, it’s time to think about what to do next. ‘If we continue the quarrel, what do I expect from it? Do I understand what they want?’ We usually think more clearly when we’re calm and not driven by negative emotions.
  4. Discuss afterwards – It’s usually possible for family members to discuss the problems that triggered disputes when everyone is less emotional. Find a time (but don’t wait too long) and have a serious conversation that allows the family to rebuild bonds and harmony.

Dr Tony Wong Chi Ming, Clinical Psychologist
(Mental Health Photographic Society)

Please note that the advice here is of a general nature only.  Readers are advised to consult a physician or other professional before making decisions on the topics covered above.

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