The Commissioner’s top tip for resolving conflict is simply to listen…

By Tam Baillie, Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland


Christmas is undeniably a special time of year, inevitably linked with visions of happy families and festive gatherings. Having worked in accommodation for young homeless people, I know that the longing for togetherness can be particularly intense.

The season is alive with the kind of magical thinking that convinces people to seek out the promise of happier times and return to a family home hoping to find a sense of belonging and acceptance they feared was lost. Invitations are given in good faith, young people and their families are genuinely looking for a special time, a reunion and even hopes of a permanent return home. But beneath the decorations, all too often old behaviours and arguments re-emerge increased by huge and often unrealistic expectations.

Consequently, the sense of failure can be even greater if a young person feels they must once more walk away. I have witnessed the sense of hopelessness for young people, following yet another breakdown with their families.   Homelessness affects thousands of young people in Scotland each year and homeless applications from young people increase in January until March. Mediation services are also noticeably busier at the turn of the year, but at least this demonstrates that people seek out help to resolve problems and there are many dedicated support services which provide an incomparable support when young people feel in crisis.

Finding a way through the fraught emotions of Christmas is part of the message from the Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution’s #stoptalklisten campaign. It encourages people to name what causes conflict in their families and what they do to overcome it, and it shows what seemingly small irritations can erupt into much greater flare-ups. For example, who does the washing up, or staying up late when others want to sleep can be flashpoints for some. Yet for all the many ways that fights can begin, there are some simple ways to move back to peace. Stop. Talk. Listen. These are three very simple instructions that might help some families this year to truly have a happy Christmas.

Tam Baillie, Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland

Before becoming Commissioner for Children and Young People in 2009, Tam Baillie worked with children and young people for 30 years, including young offenders, those in and leaving care and young homeless people. He was also Director of Policy for Barnardo’s Scotland from 2003 focusing on children’s policy and rights issues.

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