Creative Child

Teaching Children to Resolve Conflicts

by Rebecca Eanes

In a perfect world, our children would all get along with one another. There’d be no sibling squabbles and no fighting amongst friends. Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world, and so peaceful conflict resolution is an important skill for children to learn. When left to work it out for themselves, few children actually do. In fact, without proper teaching, children are likely to fall into patterns of bully and victim and never learn how to work through the dispute constructively.

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Emotional intelligence is a key part of conflict resolution because for a resolution to take place, children must be able to understand their own emotions and the emotions of others and to verbally express those feelings in an appropriate way. This doesn’t happen overnight. Although it takes time to develop these skills, each time we talk about feelings with our kids, we are helping the process along. Describe to your children how sadness, anger, happiness, and other emotions feel in the body. Talk about ways to move through the sadness, frustration, etc. so that your child will learn the lifelong benefit of emotions regulation. For more on emotional intelligence, read my article 5 Ways to Bolster Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence.

A second key to successful conflict resolution is learning how to communicate effectively. You can coach children through this process by playing the role of interpreter. The goal is to help children voice their feelings and needs and to help each child understand what the other person’s feelings and needs are as well. In her book, Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings, Dr. Laura Markham says, “Successful interpretation requires us to use our empathy to understand the perspective of both children. It also requires us to stay calm, so we can resist leaping to judgment, even while we set limits to keep everyone safe.” If children cannot express what he wants with words, they will use actions such as hitting, pushing, biting, etc. That’s why emotional intelligence is so important. Once kids learn to identify and express their emotions, the need to act out diminishes and communication greatly improves. As Dr. Markham lays out, three things are happening while you are playing interpreter.

1. You’re describing what’s happening.

2. You’re empathizing with each child.

3. You’re coaching them to put their feelings into words without attacking the other person.

Here’s how that might look:

Six-year-old Jack is playing with his dinosaurs when his four-year-old brother, Sam, comes over and grabs the T-Rex from his hands.

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