Teaching Children to Resolve Conflicts

Do you find playing the arbitrator for your children’s sibling squabbles and pillow-fights tiresome? Here are some tips to help you teach your children to resolve their conflicts amicably.

By Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj

Teaching Children to Resolve Conflicts

Aren’t we all familiar with this fable of Aesop’s where the two goats refused to give way to each other, locked their horns and got into a fight, plunged into the river and drowned? Isn’t it a typical example of conflict? Don’t we often find ourselves in situations involving conflicts in our day-to-day lives? Well, how do we handle them? Are we able to resolve our conflicts respectfully or do we struggle to reach a consensus? What about our children? How do we prepare them to handle conflicts? In a world full of strife and rifts, conflicts are bound to be there. What is important is how we train our children to resolve conflicts amicably. Before delving into how we can help them manage conflicts, let us try to understand what conflict means.

Conflict:

Definition and types

The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines conflict thus –

  • a situation in which people, groups or countries are involved in a serious disagreement or argument
  • a situation in which there are opposing ideas, opinions, feelings or wishes
  • a situation in which it is difficult to choose

This definition, in turn, spells out two major types of conflicts:

  1. Interpersonal Conflict: a state of opposition or incompatibility between two or more people
  2. Intrapersonal Conflict: a state of inner struggle that an individual faces, especially when pressed by the need to make crucial decisions or choices

Now that we have defined and broadly classified conflict, let us see why it is important for children to learn to manage their conflicts.

Children and conflicts

Children face conflicts almost everywhere - at home, in school, in the playground, at the library, etc. Whether it is claiming possession over a toy, wanting to lead a play-group, wanting to have their choices accepted at home, deciding a course of study or pursuing a career, children stare at the grim face of conflict day in and day out. As they grow up into adults, they will continue to face conflicts both in their personal as well as professional lives. Beginning from tolerating a not-so-friendly neighbour to being part of a team in the workplace, conflicts will be an integral part of their lives. If they are not taught to resolve their conflicts early in life, it can affect their psycho-social development. It can sour relationships and cause self-doubt. It can even affect their focus and concentration.

Therefore, it is essential that children learn to manage their conflicts efficiently. Here’s what parents can do to help them in this process.

What parents can do

  1. Help find solutions: Children should realise that the most important thing is to find solutions to conflicts. It is necessary to experience harmony both within and without. In order to peacefully co-exist with others and to have inner peace, they need to focus on resolving conflicts.
  2. Enable better perception: Children should learn to perceive issues better. Let them understand that each individual will have his/her own preferences and is entitled to them. They should learn to appreciate others’ choices and opinions.
  3. Stress on logical reasoning: Develop children’s divergent and creative thinking, problem-solving and negotiation skills. These approaches can be employed to successfully resolve conflicts.
  4. Advocate making compromises: Children may not be able to have their say or way always. At times, they will have to meet others halfway. They may win some and lose some. They should realise that they cannot be in a win-win situation at all times.
  5. Encourage co-operation: Children should work together with others. Co-operation and collaboration will go a long way in maintaining harmonious relationships.
  6. Urge active listening: Only when children listen more and speak less will they be able to view situations from others’ perspectives.
  7. Teach decision-making: Let children understand how to analyse the outcomes of actions. This will help them make decisions. Decision-making is a very important aspect of conflict resolution, especially when it comes to intrapersonal conflicts.
  8. Emphasise on open discussions: Ensure that children have frank conversations with the other person involved in the conflict. Speaking openly can break down walls and save relationships.
  9. Underline the importance of apologising: This is a very significant step in resolving interpersonal conflicts. Acknowledging one’s mistakes will make the other person take a step forward in resolving the conflict.
  10. Focus on emotion management: Train children to keep a check on their emotions. Whether they face interpersonal or intrapersonal conflicts, it is essential to stay calm and composed. Only then can they handle the situation well, be able to think clearly and arrive at appropriate solutions.

‘Conflict is the beginning of consciousness,’ said the American psychoanalyst, Mary Esther Harding. Let our children bear this in mind. Conflicts can serve as opportunities to know ourselves and others better. They can serve as learning experiences in improving our relationships with others and our perceptions of people and matters.