Conflict is a constant for kids and adults, but many kids need guidance to learn how to resolve conflicts they encounter responsibly.

As parents we help our children navigate many areas of life from a simple task like eating and changing clothes to more complicated ones like how to manage peer relationships. Conflict is a natural, and many times, healthy component to relationships. It’s also something that many of us try to avoid! 

Why do we avoid conflict?

In my counseling practice, I often ask clients “what do you do when you feel anxious?”. The most typical response is “Well, I try to distract myself so I don’t feel uncomfortable”.  

It’s human nature to avoid unpleasant feelings and let’s face it, conflict stirs up feelings of discomfort. Some reasons we, adults and children alike avoid conflict include: 

  • Fear of rejection
  • Unsure of what you need or want
  • Low confidence in effectively communicating
  • Fear of getting in trouble

So, if conflict elicits such fear and discomfort, what’s the problem with avoiding it? While it may seem reasonable to avoid conflict, in order to avoid the associated tension and discomfort, in reality, it has the likelihood to increase tension and the issue surrounding the conflict remains.   

Developing conflict resolution skills is an imperative process in all stages of life. Like so many interpersonal skills, the earlier an individual feels comfortable practicing these skills, the more rewarding their relationships will become. 

Whether we’re talking about conflict on the playground between two 6-year-olds or marital conflict, the foundation of healthy conflict resolution skills remain the same. 

So, while teaching our children how to read, write and use their manners, we’re also teaching them how to address conflict in and out of the home. 

First, take a moment and consider what type of a conflict manager you are.

  • Do you tend to react or respond?
  • Do you allow yourself to take a breather and calm down when necessary?

Keep in mind children learn first by watching their natural role models, most often, their parents. 

5 Tips to Help Manage Conflict

Here are a few things to consider as you’re helping your little one manage the murky waters of conflict resolution:

 1. Explain what conflict is and is not.

Children need to be safe and secure. They need to know they are loved unconditionally. They also need to know that even loved ones disagree sometimes. Help your child understand that conflict is natural, and often helpful, in relationships. It does not mean the relationship is broken. It means you care enough about the relationship to mend it through managing disagreements.

2. Explore emotions that arise from the conflict.

Conflict elicits feels of discomfort in all of us. The emotions that arise from conflict within your child may feel very unfamiliar and scary. Using tools like an emotions chart, help your child to identify how he/she feels when they just had an argument with their friends. Validate these emotions as real and safe when communicated effectively.

3. Help your child identify self soothing strategies.

If necessary, help your child to identify and implement self soothing strategies. If they’re upset following an argument, they may need to “take a breather” before re-engaging in the interaction. 

Encourage them to step away, acknowledge how they’re feeling and calm down in whatever way that feels good to them. Some examples include: taking deep breaths, writing out how they feel, listening to music, going for a walk.

4. Review communication styles. 

In age appropriate ways, teach your child the difference between the communication styles of aggressive, assertive and passive. Using role play and encouraging “I” statements, help your child see how they can express their own needs in a kind compassionate way.

5. Lead by example!

Last, but not least - it's important to model behavior for your kids so they learn what's an appropriate reaction. 

About Annemarie Lange

Annemarie Lange is a licensed professional counselor in the Philadelphia area that utilizes mindfulness and meditation to help her clients deal with a variety of challenges.

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