Managing Conflict With Children

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Teaching children to deal constructively with conflict is done partly by setting a good example yourself and partly by establishing clear and fair rules regarding behaviour boundaries and punishments.

The level to which you'll have to engage in conflict management strategies with your child will depend on a number of factors, such as their age and emotional development level, their natural temperament, and the nature of the conflicts they tend to become involved in most frequently. Managing conflict with children is an ongoing process which will need to be repeatedly readdressed and adopted as they grow older.

Acknowledge and praise good behaviour and mature interactions with others, rather than only acknowledging bad behaviour and aggression. Often, a child will engage in bad behaviour, including fighting with others, in order to gain the attention of nearby adults. Only paying attention to negative behaviour reinforces the idea that negative behaviour gets results. By giving your child attention when they are behaving well, you are teaching them by example that there are more positive and constructive ways to get others attention.

It is also extremely helpful to teach a child to directly express their needs, rather than throwing tantrums or behaving passive-aggressively. When you're forced to acknowledge bad behaviour, avoid physically punishing or yelling at your child, as this will inadvertently teach your child that aggression and violence are the way to solve conflicts.

Establish just a few clear, concise rules for behaviour and apply those rules calmly and consistently. When you're forced to address bad behaviour, make sure that there are always consequences, and make sure your children are clear as to what privileges will be temporarily taken away and why. Explain to your children how these punishments are to reinforce clear concepts of appropriate and inappropriate ways of dealing with conflict. Lastly, involve your children in setting conflict management ground rules, letting them help determine what behaviours are not acceptable, and what punishments are the most appropriate for them and any siblings.

Help children become aware of emotional and physical cues they may experience that tell them that they're getting upset. Teach them strategies which will help them calm themselves before they act out inappropriately. Children who are having difficulty learning these coping strategies and who frequently fight with others should be supervised when playing with others so that they can be reminded of their coping strategies before they act out.

Teach your child empathy by helping them understand other points of view and how to temporarily adopt another person's perspective during a disagreement. This can be accomplished by asking your child how they think the other person(s) involved in the disagreement might be feeling. If the other child that your child is having a conflict with is present, encourage your child to ask the other how they are feeling about the problem and how they'd like it resolved.

Prevent future aggressive interpersonal behaviour in children by avoiding arguments in front of them. As with other forms of behaviour, children learn how to deal with conflict by watching adults deal with conflict. Disagreements between adults should be handled in a mature, rational, non-abusive fashion, with all parties involved in the disagreement taking turns talking and listening. It's beneficial for children to see adults disagreeing politely and discussing the dilemma while working to constructively solve the problem. It's also important that your children know that they are not the source of the disagreement, as children may internalise domestic arguments by assuming that they are the cause. Extreme and emotional disagreements between adults should be saved for when children are not present, or at least in another room. If an intense disagreement is being worked out behind closed doors, adults should remember to keep their voices down.