Let’s face it, conflict is hard and is bound to happen. Whether it’s on the playground or right in our own homes, children will clash. And while it can be challenging situations, it is a normal event that occurs between children and a learning opportunity for them. This is why conflict resolution is an essential life skill for them to learn. In order to help them, though, teaching it to them while they are young, is the key to making this a standard routine during disagreements with others.
Often when children are involved in a conflict, one of two things happens. Either the parent rushes in to save their child or the child goes to an adult immediately. And yes, when there is a physical altercation taking place, adults must intervene at once. But when children are arguing over a toy or whose turn it is, they should be given the opportunity to resolve the conflict on their own. Learning this skill is important in the development of friendships. For Adults, allowing time for this to take place is essential.
It is hard, though, for adults, especially parents to observe their child in the middle of a conflict. The first thought it to jump in to relieve the discomfort. However, doing this does not help children find and develop their own solutions, a skill that’s essential in learning conflict management. The best thing to do is observe from a distance and allow the process to happen and intervene if things get physical. Younger children will need more assistance when working through issues with others and, depending on their age, the degree to which adults will need to assist them will vary.
Since children between the ages 3-4 are still working on language development and are still egocentric their conflicts usually result in a physical response. Adults need to support them by helping them find the words they need to express how they feel about the situation, instead of pushing the other child. Children between the ages 5-6 are better able to grasp concepts about communication but are very set in their thinking so these skills must be taught in the midst of disagreements. As children get older, they have the basic tools in place to handle more of the conflict on their own and involve adults only if they absolutely can’t work it out.
The best way to start this learning process is by teaching calming techniques and showing empathy to each child. It’s important that they have a safe space to express their feelings about the situation. However, it’s even more important for them to not cast blame and, instead, admit to their part in the conflict since “who started it” doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Help them use “I” statements in an effort to show respect for each other. Then, adults should empower children to brainstorm solutions that result in a compromise. Adults also need to be mindful of their behaviors when resolving conflict as children will imitate what they see us do.
The supplemental Life SKILLZ content we post in our Gentle East Martial Arts – Parent SKILLZ Group, shares lessons and ideas on things such as patience, respect, fairness, sharing, and cooperation that are all important in conflict resolution. Our instructors utilize these techniques and strategies in classes and present the information in a way that is easily understandable by the age group it is targeted for. These skills establish a foundation for the higher-level skill of conflict management.
When children are given the tools to work through conflict at an early age, they develop greater confidence in their ability to brainstorm solutions on their own. Early guidance by trusted adults will help set the stage for success in this area. When children can work through things on their own, they feel assured in their own judgments and therefore, it helps them develop strong friendships in the long run.