Resolving Conflicts Between Children

In life, conflict is inevitable; learning healthy ways to resolve conflict is a lesson that every parent should teach their child. While younger children need parents, teachers, and other authority figures to help them resolve many of their conflicts, older children should be encouraged to work out their differences largely on their own, says human development specialist Leanne Spengler who writes for the University of Missouri Extension 1.

Lead The Way

Children model their parents' behavior, and they are always watching. How a parent chooses to resolve conflict as it arises will send a very powerful message to their child. Be sure it's a good one. To determine if your techniques are healthy or need a little work, it's wise to identify the techniques that you use to resolve conflicts and discuss them with a variety of people close to you: your spouse or partner, your children, your friends and co-workers, or anyone who can give you constructive feedback. Clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Markham, creator of Aha! Parenting, reminds parents that it's normal for disagreements to occur in the household, but it's important for children to see these differences worked out in a healthy manner so they learn how to resolve their own conflicts 2. If you and your partner constantly yell at each other during disagreements, make threats, or engage in other unhealthy behaviors, you're sending your child the message that this is the appropriate way to handle disagreements.

Teach Effective Strategies

When parents and other authority figures witness a dispute between children, it's important that they intervene with effective strategies for resolving conflict. It's ineffective to attempt to resolve a dispute that your child is having with a friend or sibling by yelling at them out of frustration. If you sense yourself getting frustrated by repetitive arguing among your children, take a few deep breaths to calm yourself and return to finding a healthy way to resolve the conflict. Spengler suggests that parents allow the children to voice their opinions about the nature of the problem without interruption--this teaches children to learn to use their words instead of brute force to handle disagreements. Kevin L. Smith, Ph.D., a writer for the Ohio State University Extension, suggests parents also encourage children to focus on the desired outcome 1. If your child is fighting with a friend over playing a video game, for example, you can ask, "How can the two of you see to it that you each have equal playing time, to keep things fair?"

Monitor Parental Intervention

When it comes to siblings, parents need to monitor when they intervene to resolve conflicts. Spengler notes that some siblings might think a parent is favoring one child over the other if they don't get their way, which leads to feelings of anger and resentment. Spengler adds that parents should intervene when conflicts arise between younger children who haven't yet learned to use words to express their grievances. Parents should also intervene when there's a risk of injury, a lack of control in one or more of the children, or when kids continue to argue over the same problem, says Spengler. If you notice your older children fighting over the last piece of cake--and there's no threat to anyone's safety--let them work out the problem on their own. If either of your children is unfair in resolving this conflict, insist that your child apologizes, and teach your kids how they should handle a similar situation in the future.

Feelings Education

Younger children are often without an extensive vocabulary with which to express their feelings. As a result, they tend to hit, push, and use other aggressive behaviors to express their frustrations when conflicts arise. Lise Fox and Rochelle Harper Lentini, writing for the National Association for the Education of Young Children, state that children with a vocabulary of feelings are more likely to use their words instead of acting out to express their emotions. Parents should also encourage kids to recognize how others feel in conflicting situations. This encourages empathy. For example, if your child takes too long playing with an activity--causing a friend to become angry and frustrated--ask your child to consider how he would feel if his friend took too long playing the way he did.

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