“Can’t we all just get along?” You might have heard that said, but you’ll never feel it more than when you see your kids locking horns. Or when your little one has a friend over and they can’t come to terms. “So-and-so’s being mean” is probably one of the most oft-repeated complaints in a child’s repertoire.
There is no magic word to make the conflict go away. Children have different needs and wants. Thus, inevitably, they’ll experience differences in opinion. This can happen anywhere, anytime, with anyone. They may respond by arguing and using physical aggression, or more passively by backing off and avoiding one another.
When introducing children to the ways that conflict can be dealt with, using animals as examples could help them understand it better. Here’re some conflict styles and their examples.
|Conflict style||Animal example||Child’s behaviour|
|Force||Shark, bull, lion||Argues, yells, debates to impose his own view, generally in raised tones|
|Give in||Jelly fish, teddy bear||Prevents fights, tries to make people happy|
|Avoid||Ostrich, turtle||Distracts, talks about something else, or leaves the room or relationship entirely|
|Compromise||Fox||I give some, and expect you to give some too|
|Sort out the problem (win-win)||Owl||Discover ways for everyone to get what they want|
By learning to manage conflict effectively, children are happier and have better relationships. Here’re some additional tips for parents with children of all ages.
For 3-6 year olds
1. Help your child calm down.
You may call a short time out or ask the children to separate. Ideas to help them calm down include: counting slowly to 10, breathing deeply in and out five times, or covering their eyes with their hands for a certain count. This age group is easily distracted and very forgiving. Simply giving them a chance to calm down might be enough to help them resolve the issue and get right back to playing together.
2. Let your child explain the problem.
As soon as the children are calmer, you need to hear them out to understand what’s going on. Help them to state and understand the problem. For the little ones, simply giving them the opportunity to be heard often helps them feel better.
3. Encourage apologies.
Usually, with young children, it is relatively simple to find out the core of the issue. One child took another child’s toy, or one child hit the other. Even if neither child meant to be unkind, ask the child who caused offense to apologise. If they are having a difficult time, you can even ask them to repeat the apology after you. That will be sure to bring smiles to their faces.
4. Find a solution together.
If a simple “sorry” didn’t fix things, or if some damage was done, encourage them to work things out together. For instance, if a toy is broken, they can fix it with you. Or if two children both want the same book, they can take turns with it. Make sure that you find a solution both (or all) children are happy with.
For children aged 7-9
Some of the above tips will still help older children. If you find that your child does well when you help him calm down before discussing a problem, start with that step!
1. Let your child state the problem and explain his needs.
At this age, your child will know whether you are truly listening to what he is telling you about the issue. So, listen! When you listen and understand, you will also help your child model the same type of response to the person with whom he is having conflict. Also, allowing your child to vent or explain the situation to you may help him sort through some of the difficult emotions.
2. Help your child understand and manage emotions.
Let your child know it’s okay to feel strong emotions. They need to understand everyone gets angry sometimes, and it’s how we respond to that anger or frustration that matters. Talk to them about what kind of responses are okay and others that are not. For instance, “I understand your friend said something that hurt your feelings, but calling him names is not going to help.”
3. Help your child learn to listen to the other person.
By this age, children can begin to learn that the other person has a side to the story. While you as a parent listen to both sides, make sure they are listening, too. You could encourage them to speak to each other while you are there. Listen to the words they choose and help them clarify their meaning. Encourage them to say honestly how the actions or words of the other person made them feel.
4. Create opportunities for your child to build friendships.
Give your child the opportunity to spend time with other children. Playing games or taking turns on the swing or catching ball together will teach your child real-life conflict resolution skills. Even if you need to get involved and help them work through conflicts, providing an environment where they develop real friendships is a life-long lesson.
For 10-12 year olds
1. Let your child help you solve the issue.
By this age, your child is old enough to help you find a solution to the conflict. For instance, if your child comes home from school and says she’s having problems with a friend at school, ask her what she thinks she should do about it. You might need to offer some advice, but give your child the chance to solve her own issues.
2. Ask your child to think about the fairest option.
By the time your child reaches the age of nine or ten (sometime younger), they know what actions are fair and what are not. Whether it’s taking turns, dividing portions up evenly, or giving everyone a chance to be heard, encourage your child to consider what solution would be fair for everyone.
3. Teach him it’s okay if everything isn’t fixed in one day.
This one isn’t easy, especially for us as parents. We want to fix the problems our children are facing. But some problems can’t be resolved in a single day. Sometimes if they’re having conflicts with a friend from school, a breather from each other may be needed. Teach them that it’s OK to walk away when all else fails. Give them a chance to think options through, counsel with you, and find long-term solutions.
4. Practice playing roles with your child.
Some children might really enjoy this. If your child has been facing conflict with classmates, or having an issue with a friend, take on roles and work through the problem together. Acting through possible scenes ahead of time could help your child know how to handle a conflict if it does arise. It will provide them with some strategies or words to say to help work through difficult times.
You might find that your child responds well to certain tips outside of his or her age group. That’s okay. What you’re looking for is what works. And when all else fails, let them learn to walk away and resolve it another day. Disagreement or conflict does not mean that a relationship is damaged or in jeopardy, neither does it mean that there has to be a winner or loser – these are probably the most important lessons they need to learn at any age.
Feel free to leave a comment if you have any other great tips or suggestions on how to help your child resolve conflict.