Teaching Kids to Resolve Conflict On Their Own

Relationships can be challenging at any stage in life, but especially for youngsters who haven’t yet learned how to effectively communicate their emotions. When siblings or friends get into an argument and one huffily storms off, the conflict is never quite resolved. Enough of these interactions can contribute to ongoing difficulty in relationships. But because young children have such neural flexibility, they are prime candidates to learn about managing emotions and conflict resolution. In recent years, likely due to increased adult supervision, kids have become less apt to solve problems by themselves, instead resorting to involving adults and name-calling. Here are some strategies to steer kids to independence and self-reliance in the wake of conflict.

  • First and foremost, model empathy by earnestly listening if/when your kids come to you with a problem. Sometimes they just need to know they are acknowledged and affirmed
  • Get kids to a place where they can think before they act when you’re not there
    • Try the stoplight technique: Ask your kids to picture their emotions. If they’re in the red, they feel too heated to do anything and may need to count or breathe deeply in order to calm down. Yellow means the emotion is subsiding and green means they are ready to proceed with a conversation.
    • When they’ve gotten to green, they can decide whether the conflict can be worked out amongst themselves or if it’s serious enough to require adult assistance
  • Help them avoid resorting to blame by using “I feel” statements
    • “I felt hurt when you didn’t include me” rather than “You left me out on purpose because you’re a bully.”
  • Ask them to tell their own sides of the story, then to tell each other’s. Let each of them brainstorm ways to resolve the others’ conflict. This will teach perspective.
  • Demonstrate how to properly apologize
    • A good apology: Says you’re sorry and why, commits to helping the situation by behaving better next time, asks for forgiveness
  • Show them the bigger picture
    • Emphasize that one action or disagreement doesn’t define the whole relationship
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