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Child Conflict Resolution
by Wyatt Fisher, Psy.D.
Many parents have ongoing issues with their children fighting one another. Most of the reasons for child conflict are common, such as uncooperative behavior, selfish desires, sibling rivalry, etc. Many know that one of the best predictors for divorce in marriage is how well couples handle conflict, therefore, it’s imperative to teach children these vital skills while they are still young. God tells us that “..everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry..” (James 1:18, NIV). The trick is learning how to train children in these concepts while avoiding two extremes. The first is avoiding all assistance with squabbling children by believing they should always work it out on their own and the second is becoming overly involved with every minor altercation. Both extremes don’t train children on how to properly handle conflicts themselves. Scripture tells us to “train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, KJV).
1-Bring them together
The first step in training children on proper conflict resolution skills is bringing the feuding children together. Just like adults, when most children fight they either escalate or avoid one another. Therefore, a parental presence will help break both unhealthy patterns. Also, bringing the children together allows the parent to give them their full attention, rather than trying to intervene from across the house. Lastly, bringing the children together can provide a sense of safety and calmness knowing an adult is present to prevent any further misbehavior towards one another.
2-What are they feeling and why?
The second step is helping each child express what they are feeling and why. A common principle in the field of psychology is people will act out how they feel if they don’t say how they feel. Therefore, it’s much better to train a child to say “I’m mad” than having him yell, hit, and scream. In addition, it’s essential to help children identify the tender emotions they are feeling underneath their anger since anger is usually a secondary emotion, such as sadness, rejection, anxiety, etc. A common statement could be “I feel sad when you exclude me from playing with your dolls.” Expressing the tender emotion is also helpful for the other child listening because it will make them feel more empathic and provide ideas on what they can do differently next time.
3-Each must confess their wrongdoing and apologize
The third component to helping children work through conflict is having each one confess their wrongdoing and apologize. “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed…..” (James 5:16, NIV). Children must learn that they are responsible for their behavior regardless of how someone has treated them. They also must learn that both parties are usually to blame for conflicts, whether they realize it or not. Moreover, apologizing for their misbehavior will help the other child hearing it feel more forgiving in return.
4-What will they do different next time?
The fourth step is having both children say what they will do differently next time. Examples may include, “The next time I’ll ask nicely to play with you rather than butting in” or “The next time I’ll ask permission before taking something from your room.” Expressing this is critical for both the child saying it and the child hearing it. It’s helpful for the child saying it because it provides them a focus on how to improve moving forward and it’s helpful for the child hearing it because it helps them feel like the misbehavior won’t happen again in the future. Therefore, it encourages both children to end the conflict resolution experience feeling hopeful and positive towards one another and their future interactions together.
So, train children in godly conflict resolution skills by bringing them together, helping them express their feelings, helping them confess their wrongdoing, and helping them say what they’ll do differently next time. Also, be sure to check out other helpful blogs on parenting for more tips.
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What other steps do you feel are important for child conflict resolution and why?