How to help children manage conflict

Photo Credit: Jayel Aheram

Children learn about themselves from what others say about them. They also learn about other people when they share their feelings and thoughts with them. Many parents would only tell children how they should behave but neglect to share their personal message on how they are affected.

Toddlers are working at being independent. When they feel overwhelmed by their angst, they release their temper in the most unreasonable way.

If this should happen, the less done the better. Parents should remain calm and let the full-blown tantrum subside before interacting with the child.

Teach your child the other side of the story

Tell your child when he is calmer that you feel upset, too, when he throws a tantrum. Let him know that you want to do what you can to help prevent him from losing self-control.

You are driving home with your two children at the back of the car. As usual, they start picking on each other. You try to put a stop to their fighting by shouting and threatening. Your words seem to fall on deaf ears. They continue their fighting.

Researchers tell us that children can learn to take on other people’s perspectives. They may be self-centred but they can learn to understand what is going on with other people.

To do so, they need to hear from their parents and caregivers what is going on with them at different times and in different situations.

Instead of telling them to stop fighting, you may want to stop the car and focus on them.

Tell them exactly how you feel when they fight in the car. This is a great opportunity for them to learn to manage conflict and build on proactive ways to get along.

You can say: “I am trying to get us home safely and at the soonest time possible. I feel angry and sad when you fight with each other. My feelings can distract me from driving safely. I want both of you to get along. Let’s try a few ways to get along. Both of you can come up with your own ideas and we will try each one of them to see what works.”

Children usually fare better when they try to put their own ideas to work. Help them along in making sure they succeed in what they set out to do. If parents take over all the control in finding the solutions, children would only cooperate half-heartedly.

Many parents try to discipline children without acknowledging their own feelings. I have heard parents say: “It is no use talking to them. They learn better when I take the cane out.”

One parent’s opinion is that they often act like they don’t want her to talk to them.

No matter how old your children are, they like to hear you talking to them. They want adults to know them.

It is the children who go through harsh discipline that often clam up and refuse to discuss things with their parents.

When my elder girl was a preschooler, she fought with her younger sister. I said to her: “You hurt your sister. She is still very little and cannot tell you how she feels. She is upset by you. Find a way you can make her feel better.”

When my younger daughter at age six refused to go to preschool, I told her: “You don’t feel like going to school today but Dominique who is in our car pool will also miss school. He likes going to school. You are his friend. When you go to school, you get to spend time with him, too.”

So what happens when children understand other people’s perspective?

Studies found that children who can figure out someone else’s intentions are less aggressive. They are able to help others out.

When my younger girl was four, she told her cousin who was five: “It’s not nice to make another person cry. She (his victim) feels sad when you are not nice to her.”

Those who understand what is going on in the minds of others are found to adapt to new environments better. They also score higher in reading levels.

Children with this ability to understand other people can make this world a better place to live in.

Maybe we will see a future that is less violent and more peaceful.

Ruth Liew is an expert in early childhood education, child development, parenting, and child care. She is an author and a columnist.

See Also…

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