A marriage and family therapist will use a common parental complaint -- that their children's bedrooms are far too messy -- to demonstrate conflict resolution methods at a forum in Kensington this week.

Barbara Fairfield, a marriage and family therapist, will counsel a family in conflict over messy bedrooms in front of an audience of other families at the Parent Encouragement Program, a family education and counseling center. Using this method, known in Adlerian psychology as "open forum counseling," both participants and audience members can learn about conflict resolution techniques, Fairfield says.

Adlerian principles that Fairfield tries to convey to families include the equality and dignity of all individuals, and the importance of cooperative relationships. She says families should function cooperatively to teach their members how to operate in a larger democratic society.

Any conflict can be used to teach these principles, Fairfield says, and common ones include messy bedrooms, refusal to do homework and fighting among siblings.

During the program, Fairfield will talk with the family members as a group, then with the parents and children separately. She says the audience learns a lot from the children because they "tell it like it is." She says parents will learn how to win cooperation from their children instead of overpowering them, a method she says incites rebellion.

Will the children who attend the session be more likely to keep their rooms clean? "Maybe and maybe not," Fairfield says, "but the family will function better overall."

What To Do About Messy Bedrooms, Parent Encouragement Program, 10100 Connecticut Ave., Kensington. $5/adult, $8/couple and $1/child. To learn more and register, call 301-929-8824.

-- Diane Knich

Untidy rooms can spark friction but also lessons in conflict resolution.