An Easy-to-Implement 4-Step Plan for Teaching Your Child to Handle Conflict
You manage your child’s life from the most significant detail down to the smallest — from choosing the right school to selecting the perfect picture day outfit. As an engaged and doting parent, you’re an expert on the nitty-gritty details of your child’s life.
That’s why it feels so natural and right to step in when conflict comes along.
You rush in without thinking — ready to do whatever it takes to end the scuffle as quickly as possible. After all, you’re the parent. It’s your job to keep conflict as far away from your child as possible.
Right? Maybe not.
Tim Elmore, a Millennial and Generation Z expert and founder of Growing Leaders, has some poignant words of warning for parents in his article Three Huge Mistakes We Make Leading Kids….and How to Correct Them:
“This may sound harsh, but rescuing and over-indulging our children is one of the most insidious forms of child abuse. It’s “parenting for the short-term,” and it sorely misses the point of leadership — to equip our young people to do it without help. Just like muscles atrophy inside of a cast due to disuse, their social, emotional, spiritual and intellectual muscles can shrink because they’ve not been exercised.
For example, I remember when and where I learned the art of conflict resolution. I was eleven years old, and every day about fifteen boys would gather after school to play baseball. We would choose sides and umpire our games. Through that consistent exercise, I learned to resolve conflict. I had to. Today, if the kids are outside at all, there are likely four mothers present doing the conflict resolution for them.
Ouch. That stings a little.
If you’ve been one of those moms or if you’ve ever rushed in to rescue your little one, you’re not alone. The good news is there’s time to change course and start fresh.
With some awareness and some practice, this 4-step plan will equip your child to handle conflict — and you’ll see your child mature right before your eyes as a dependable friend and classroom leader.
Bonus tip: The beauty of this plan is that it only depends on the actions of one. Each one of these steps requires no cooperation or response from the other child (or children) involved. So while we can’t give you tips and tricks for managing all those other children, we can offer you four solid steps that’ll help your child know what to do when conflict comes.
Step 1: Calm down
The first step towards resolving conflict is to create an environment where your child has space and time to calm down. Depending on the severity of the conflict this may take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.
The key idea to remember is this: emotions must be steady before moving forward. It’s impossible for your child to think clearly with anger, sadness, or embarrassment pulsing through their veins.
Knowing your child is also important. One child may need time alone in his or her room while another child may need your closeness to regulate.
Bonus tip: Calming down can be equally essential for you, Mom and Dad. When you’re hot and angry, it’s critical you give yourself time to get your own emotions under control before trying to remedy any situation. Removing yourself for a few minutes is always a better choice than acting in anger — leaving you only with more conflict and regret later on.
Step 2: Use words
One of the most powerful tools you can give your child is the learned skill of using their words to communicate their feelings. After a period of calming down, get eye-to-eye with your child and ask them to use their words to tell you what happened.
Use questions like these to pinpoint the facts and the motivations behind the conflict:
- Ask “What happened?” – Here you’re just looking to gather the facts of the situation. It’s a play-by-play from your child’s perspective. If you are sorting through a situation with multiple children, allow each child to share his or her viewpoint without interruption.
- Ask “What were you feeling? and “What did you do?” – These questions immediately tie your child’s feelings to their behaviors. If they can make this feeling/action connection early in life, it will serve them as adults as they begin to recognize their patterns of behavior.
- Ask “How did it end?” – This last question repetitively gives your child an awareness that actions always have consequences — both positive and negative.
Bonus tip: This simple poster from Teachers Pay Teachers is an excellent resource to teach your child the varying degrees of conflict. It’s especially helpful if you have a super emotional child who has a hard time with conflict of any sort. Hang this up in your home and use it frequently to keep those frequent and minor problems in their proper place.
Step 3: Admit wrongdoing
“I was wrong.”
Oh, those three words are so hard to say.
The truth is no one likes to be wrong — not adults and certainly not children. But those three words hold such power when it comes to resolving a conflict.
As you’ve listened to your child share about conflict, help them see where they may have been wrong or could have made a better choice.
Bonus tip: Your child will be a whole lot more comfortable admitting wrongdoing if they’ve heard you do the same. When you make a mistake as a parent, do you go to your child saying “I was wrong?” If not, consider it. A deep bond forms between two people when they can freely admit their weaknesses and mistakes — especially when those two people are parent and child.
Step 4: Apologize well
It’s now time to resolve the conflict fully by using words to apologize well. Here are three ways to help your child make an apology that’s more than just the rote recitation of two very overused words.
- Be specific. Instead of saying, “I’m sorry,” teach your child to be specific. For example: “I’m sorry that I pushed you to get to the front of the line.”
- Take responsibility. An apology states what the offending party did. It makes no mention of someone else’s wrong. Teach your child to take responsibility for his or her actions alone.
- Give space. Let your child know that the person they’re apologizing to may not be ready to hear it. That’s okay. Your child can take the right step regardless of the response received.
Beyond the Classroom
Conflict is an inescapable part of life for your child. It will come — in the classroom, in the neighborhood, in the home, and on the playground.
While it won’t be easy to keep your backside on the bench, the next time a quarrel breaks out, try to watch and wait. The greatest lesson your child learns that day may be unfolding right before your eyes.
And if they do need a little guidance, you’ll be ready to help them through it every step of the way.