Tip Sheets - Dealing With Conflict

Information sheet for parents and carers.

Childhood is the training ground for children to learn how to negotiate the world, school, relationships and living. It is a social experience from which kids develop and reinforce their skills as they grow into adulthood. Helping them to manage conflict, communicate their needs and wants, and effectively resolve disputes can be a challenge, requiring calm understanding and practical strategies from parents. This hot topic aims to help parents understand and manage the everyday conflicts that kids experience with friends, at school, with siblings and other family members.

Conflicts which arise from bullying, physically or verbally aggressive behaviours and sibling aggression are not addressed in this Hot Topic, although some of the strategies may be useful when dealing with these more serious disputes.

For concerns about bullying, harassment and other forms of harassment or assault (i.e., to and from school or in the cyber context) you can refer to:

What is conflict?

Conflict can be described as a disagreement or argument between two or more people in which there is a difference of opinion, opposing behaviors or views. Conflict can, however, be more complex than just an argument.

It is influenced by the perceptions of the people involved - their needs, wants, ideas or values. It is affected by how people respond emotionally - whether they get angry, upset, or hurt. And it may be resolved, or it may escalate, dependant on how people behave - listening empathetically, speaking calmly, withdrawing or using raised voices, physical aggression, name calling.

Conflict, then, is triggered by differences arising between people and is influenced by the way in which people respond and manage the interaction.

What can you expect?

During the course of their lives kids experience many different social interactions. They manage a multitude of different relationships with many different people - their teachers, friends, class mates, siblings, parents and significant others. It is inevitable that kids experience some form of conflict in their daily lives.

A dispute might arise when a child's opinion, needs or wants are different to a friend's, sibling's or parent's. The child experiences an emotional reaction and he or she might become angry, upset, scared, or hurt. These fears and feelings can lead to behaviours such as shouting, name calling or physical aggression that can escalate the dispute into a serious argument.

Young people with poor conflict resolution skills are likely to experience[1]:

  • increased aggression
  • social isolation
  • depression
  • feelings of loneliness
  • anxiety

Those who can resolve conflicts amicably have a greater chance of being accepted by their peers, whereas children who make poor choices of behavioral responses in conflict situations are likely to be rejected by their peers.[2]

Things you can do

Parental intervention, in combination with children's involvement in the resolution process has been found to be most successful in promoting autonomy, children's later reasoning, and compromising.[3] Because kids fight for all sorts of reasons, parents and carers have the difficult task of knowing when to let an argument run its course and when to intervene, when to mediate a dispute or when to let the kids sort it out themselves. Parents might be of the opinion that in allowing kids to fight their own battles and resolve their own disputes, kids grow and learn important social skills.

While there are always going to be times when parents need to get involved to ensure the safety of the child and forestall a worsening situation, intervening in disputes doesn't always mean taking over and laying down the law. Parental intervention can also be in the form of mediation where parents can play an active role in helping kids manage their emotions, communicate their needs and empower them to come up with their own solutions.

  • Model positive conflict resolution - How a parent chooses to resolve their own conflict, as it arises, sends a powerful message to their child. Parent who yell at each other during disagreements, make threats, use name calling, are violent or aggressive, are sending the message that this behaviour is the appropriate way to handle disagreements. Modeling positive conflict resolution, including reflection and empathy, creative problem solving, impulse and emotion control, and good communication skills provides a valuable example for your children.

    As parents we need to coach, encourage and model better ways for our children to have their needs met and develop healthy relationships.[4]
  • Create a safe environment for sharing - It can be difficult for parents to see their kids in distress so it is important to handle your own emotions. Maintain calm and listen to your child with understanding, sympathy, and loving support. To help them feel comforted and safe, allow them to express themselves openly and honestly without fear of a negative or emotional reaction.

Ideas for assisting your child deal with conflict

Whatever the situation, teaching kids conflict resolution skills can help them grow and develop positive social and emotional skills. Learning from personal experience is just one of the ways in which kids learn to negotiate and resolve conflict.

  • Use effective communication - Talking with your child in a non-judgmental way, using lots of active listening, can help them calm down, identify their feelings, work out what the problem is and find solutions.
  • Work out how they feel - Talk it over to help them identify and process their feelings - are they're angry, sad, frustrated, worried, embarrassed or scared?
  • Teach them strategies to help them cool off and release pent up emotions - These could be anything from deep breathing and relaxation, to exercise or physical activities, to writing, drawing, painting or other expressive activities.
  • Work out what they want - Talking it over with kids can help them to calm down and begin to understand their own motivations - what they really want or need, what the other child wants and how they might be feeling.

Practical Tips and ideas for assisting your child to deal with conflict

  • Teach some practical communication techniques - Whether in the heat of the moment or after taking some time out to calm down, there are some practical techniques that you can suggest to your kids to help them communicate more effectively. You could even role play some of the following behaviours with your kids to help them practice.

    • Being kind - it's hard to fight in the face of kindness
    • Avoiding name calling or hurtful insults - this can just make things worse
    • Talking with each other about the problem directly and honestly - so everyone's viewpoint can be heard
    • Listening carefully to others and repeat back what you think they said - this provides an opportunity to correct misunderstandings
    • Using "I" statements where possible - using an "I" statement removes the implication of blame from the discussion. E.g. 'I feel upset when you won't let me play with you' instead of 'You're always leave me out and never let me play'
  • Finding solutions and independent problem solving - Hopefully, by this stage, the kids will have come up with what the problem is and can get down to working it out. With some coaching from parents, this is something the kids can learn to do themselves.

    • Brainstorming solutions - writing solutions down in a big list as the ideas come up
    • Being flexible to make room for compromise to aim for a win-win solution
    • Agreeing on a solution and be willing to give it a go
    • Thinking of possible consequences of solutions

Who can I contact for more information?

You may wish to contact your local parenting help service/s for further information.

Resources

Useful Books

  • Bagwell, C.L. (2011). Friendships in Childhood and Adolescence. New York, NY: Guildford Press.
  • Hart, S.H. and Kindle, V. (2008). No-Fault Classroom: Tools to Resolve Conflict and Foster Relationship Intelligence. Encinitas, CA: Puddledancer Press
  • Mayer, Bernard. (2012). The Dynamics of Conflict: A Guide to Engagement and Intervention, 2nd ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Rubin, K.H., Bukowski, W.M. and Laursen, B. (2009). Handbook of Peer Interactions, Relationships, and Groups. New York: The Guilford Press.

References

  1. Fyrdenberg, Erica. (2010) as cited in Think Positively! A Course for Developing Coping Skills in Adolescence. London: Continuum International Publishing Group. (p.101)
  2. Kupersmidt, J. B. and Dodge, K. A. (2004) as cited in Anupama, J. (2008). Conflict resolution between friends during middle childhood. Journal of Genetic Psychology. 169(2): 133-48. (p.133)
  3. Ross, Hildy S. (2014). Parent mediation empowers sibling conflict resolution. Early education and development. 25(2): 259-275. (p.260)
  4. Suckling, A. and Temple, C. (2008). Cool Calm Kids: Resources to Help Prep to Year 2 Find Better Ways to Deal with Conflict and Bossy Peers. Camberwell, Vic. Acer Press. (p.18)

Published: December 2014