Conflicts are a normal and healthy part of any relationship. Learning to deal with conflict in a healthy way is crucial. Conflict that is handled in a respectful way can provide opportunities for growth. It’s vital to the success of young people that they develop healthy conflict resolution skills at an early age. By learning how to effectively diffuse conflict, they can avoid being the victim of a bully or help others to who may be forced to face a bully.
Conflict arises from differences. People disagree about a variety of things such as perceptions, motivations, ideas or desires. Sometimes, differences can seem insignificant, but they can often trigger strong emotions.
Conflicts between children are a familiar scenario in school and at home. We often spend time being referees and resolving issues for them. But, unfortunately, the children never learn to resolve conflict on their own. Even more important is that they never learn to prevent conflicts from happening in the first place.
Once children successfully learn the basic skills needed to diffuse conflict, they can talk through their own conflicts and come up with solutions that are reasonable and respectful to everyone involved. These skills will empower children to resist bully behaviors.
It’s important that educators and parents teach their students these skills as early as possible. Being proactive rather than reactive can make all the difference when dealing with bully behavior.
Educating young people to manage conflict effectively will empower them to experience more rewarding friendships and enjoy social experiences both at school and at home.
One thing to remember, however, is that while every child can learn the skills needed for effective conflict resolution, their success is related to their age, stage of development and their previous experiences. Very young children may not yet have the emotional capacity to empathize with others or how to compromise without adult assistance.
Here are some tips on what to teach your children to help them succeed in resolving conflicts:
Managing Strong Emotions
Children have the right to feel strong emotions, but it is important that they learn that being physically or verbally hurtful or intimidating does not resolve conflict. Help children learn simple strategies for remaining calm. For example, teaching children to take a deep breath or count to ten before reacting can be an effective way to manage strong feelings and diffuse conflict.
Talk & Listen
Teach children to recognize the value of using words and speaking calmly to solve conflict. Help them to create a phrase that they can say to a friend to help start the resolution process. For example, “Let’s talk about this and find a way to work together” is a neutral way to start a conversation that will lead to respectful conflict resolution. Learning to say how they feel and what they wish would happen, rather than attributing blame and overly focusing on the cause of the conflict, are skills children should learn to develop early.
Listening is an important tool to have in resolving conflict. Teaching children learn to listen to each other can be difficult, especially when they are very young or emotionally upset. When they are tired or upset, trying to talk it through will not work well. In these instances, it is often best to wait until your child is calm before moving forward to use any positive conflict resolution strategies.
Problem Solving to Find a Solution
Children will need help negotiating the process of brainstorming potential solutions together. The goal is to find a solution that makes everyone happy. For younger children, keep the options limited and simple. For older children, remind them that everyone has the right to be heard and that no idea is a silly idea.
Talk with children about the benefits of being kind, being fair and sharing with others. Reward positive examples with verbal encouragement. While young children find it difficult to understand why they need to ‘take turns,’ for example, they will often be more willing to share when encouraged to let the other child have a turn once they are done.
When Nothing Else Works
Teach your child to walk away when nothing else works and let them know that they should feel safe to come to you or another trusted adult to seek help in resolving difficult situations.
Role Play Scenarios
Role playing helps children feel more comfortable using conflict resolution strategies. Talking through and acting out potential scenarios that might develop in the playground or on a play date will help children feel confident using conflict resolution strategies.
Encourage Imaginative Play
Imaginative play provides a safe place for children to work through overwhelming emotions, to make sense of things they have seen, heard or learned from others, and for processing social interactions, including conflicts. Having the space, time and freedom to play imaginatively, provides children with a sense of power – they feel in control, capable of figuring things out, of thinking things through and solving problems.
Host Play Dates
Regular play dates provide your child with real life opportunities to develop friendships. They can practice using conflict resolution strategies away from the stress of the school playground or other larger group setting.