There's a basic toolbox we can give our children that will help them in their relationships.
Personal conflicts are inevitable. Some may be so important that they’re among the greatest challenges we face in our adult life. Differences of temperament and personality can also make our children experience small conflicts of this kind, starting when they are very young, and they need to begin learning how to resolve them.
Rather than trying to avoid conflicts at any cost, or us trying to resolving our children’s problems for them, we should recognize that each of these conflicts is an ideal opportunity for our children to start learning mediation techniques, and for them to understand that they need to respect the people around them. This requires that they learn to reach agreements and compromises in order to live in harmony.
1Teach them different ways of resolving problems
Often, impulsivity will lead them to one of the two main answers: fight or flight. However, if we show them the broad spectrum of possibilities from which they can choose when it comes to resolving problems, we’ll be giving them a toolbox to work with. Especially if our children are young, we might want to get a printed copy of a wheel of conflict resolution that shows the solutions visually. We might want to put it in a visible place in our house, especially if conflicts between our children tempt us to lose our own heads.
2Teach them to recognize and name their own emotions
Often, conflicts between children appear because they don’t know how to express their feelings well yet. Teaching them to recognize and name what they are feeling is vital for them to manage their relationships with others. It’s not the same thing to be angry as to be sad, disillusioned, or frustrated. Each of these emotions leads to a different behavior, and only by understanding how to communicate those feelings to others can children complete the first step towards resolving conflicts properly.
3Ask concrete questions
When we have to play the role of arbiter in some of these conflicts, it’s important that we ask concrete questions. Asking, “Why did you do that?” isn’t effective, because that’s a very broad concept for children to understand and explain. Always try to find the specific cause of the situation. This will teach our children to identify the precise moment when the problem began, and to understand how they could’ve dealt with it better.
4Involve your children in looking for solutions
Sometimes, parents are tempted to force their children to say they’re sorry and consider the case closed. Often, this isn’t effective, because they’re not sorry and they haven’t learned anything from the conflict. Questions such as, “How do you think you could solve this problem?” Or, “What do you think would make you feel better, or make your brother feel better?” Invite them to think about solutions that are appropriate for what they’re feeling at that moment. As parents, we may be surprised by the good solutions that our children come up with if we give them a chance.
5Don't try to force their feelings
It’s a mistake to say to them, “You’re not sad anymore, are you!” or, “You can’t get angry about that.” As parents, we need to understand that feelings are not a matter of will. We’ll be wasting time and making our children feel bad if we try to force them to feel one way or the other. It’s better to teach them to channel their feelings and work with them. We can use phrases such as, “I see you’re sad. If you’d like, we can sit together for a while, unless you’d rather be alone,” or, “I understand that you’re angry. If you need to, go to your room for a little while until you can calm down, and then we can talk.” This way, we acknowledge their feelings and we help them to understand that we have choices—some better than others—about how to react to our feelings.
This is a very complicated topic, and we need to understand that conflict resolution is an art that even adults don’t usually handle well. We shouldn’t get frustrated when, despite our efforts to teach them, they (and we) continue having problems of this kind. If we keep trying, we’ll never stop learning, so the sooner we start, the greater our chances of becoming more successful.