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Key Takeaways:

  • Children experience conflict because of personal disagreements, struggles in school, competition among peers, and a need for independence.
  • Teaching conflict resolution skills to children helps them develop stronger relationships with others, reduce stress levels, and improve their self-esteem.
  • Conflict resolution skills children should have include calming down, acknowledging differences, communicating effectively, and apologizing.

As adults, we know how challenging it can be to focus on finding a solution when we're overwhelmed with anger. Now, imagine how much more difficult it is for a child still learning to control their emotions.

Conflict resolution is a crucial skill for kids to develop early on, as arguments and fights can negatively impact relationships and lead to various challenges. However, facing a conflict head-on, though uncomfortable, can create positive outcomes such as improved communication and stronger relationships [*]. It's a skill that doesn’t have to feel impossible, but rather, a hopeful and achievable goal.

Our guide will outline conflict resolution tips respectfully, productively, and effectively.

Understanding Conflict in Kids

Experiencing conflict among kids is a natural part of their early development. Children learn to communicate their needs and boundaries as they age but may only sometimes do so effectively. As parents and caretakers, understanding why and how conflict arises among children can put us in a better position to help kids develop constructive skills, empowering us with the responsibility to guide them.

Common Causes of Conflict Among Kids

Part of understanding conflict in kids is identifying the root causes of common disagreements. Here are a few problem areas you might observe in school or at home:

  • Personal disagreements. As young children develop friendships, they’ll learn they won’t always agree with their peers. Perhaps they’ll have differences in values, beliefs, or interests.
  • Competition. Healthy competition can occasionally cause conflicts between kids, especially when they achieve high grades or become popular among their peers.
  • Frustration over academic success. School can put a lot of pressure on a child, especially if they have learning disabilities or can’t keep up with their workload. When young students become overwhelmed, they can develop anger management issues [*].
  • Need for independence. Children entering the pre-teen stage may naturally crave independence from their parents or caretakers, creating the potential for rebellion.

10 Important Conflict Resolution Skills for Kids

Exercising the appropriate conflict resolution strategy entails developing certain skills. Here are the top ten skills you can focus on when practicing conflict resolution exercises for kids.

1. Calming down

You can’t communicate with anyone before they’re calm—the same goes for children. Don’t allow things to get out of control. Help them take a step back and relax. Breathing exercises can help children get their heart rates down and detach from overwhelming sensations.

2. Identifying feelings

Once your child is calm, tackle feelings first. When children get overwhelmed, they may experience intense emotions they don’t understand. By giving these emotions a name, they can better acknowledge them in the future.

Help your child identify their emotions—are they angry? Frustrated? Hurt? How intensely do they feel these emotions? You can help them gauge their level of emotions with a feelings thermometer.

3. Listening Actively

Active listening entails giving someone else your undivided attention and processing their words like information. This skill can be challenging for children to adapt, especially when they’re easily distracted.

You can teach your child the art of listening actively by imparting the following tips:

  • Face who you’re speaking with and make eye contact.
  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Ask follow-up questions.
  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues.

4. Showing Empathy

As a child, you may have been told to try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. When we ask children to do this, we ask them to be empathetic. Empathy means acknowledging what someone else says, even if they disagree. Part of empathy is listening without interrupting and letting someone finish their thoughts.

5. Brainstorming Solutions

You can start finding solutions with your child when they understand the issue better. Older children may come to their own conclusions from bouncing ideas off their parents or caretakers, whereas younger children may need more structured brainstorming.

Break the brainstorming session into steps. For example, step one is identifying the problem and the people involved. Step two is listing all the options. Finally, the last step is choosing the best options.

6. Asking for Help

Learning to resolve conflicts doesn’t mean always doing it on your own. Children must know to ask for help from a trusted adult. Ensure your child knows to ask for help if they are scared or feel unsafe.

If unavailable, provide your child with the emergency numbers of other trusted adults, such as another parent, an aunt or uncle, or a teacher.

7. Knowing When to Walk Away

As the saying goes, it’s essential to pick your battles. Just because your child can see beyond anger doesn’t mean others can. If the conversation between your child and their peer does more harm than good, encourage them to walk away respectfully.

Your child may need space from a conflict if:

  • Their emotions are too intense and becoming difficult to handle
  • They feel physical tension, such as a racing heart or rising blood pressure
  • They are becoming upset or frustrated

Teach them to communicate a specific need, such as sitting down for five minutes or taking a ten-minute walk, and to state their intention to return. For instance, they might tell their friend, “Can we talk about this tomorrow over the phone?” or “Can we talk about this later after school?”

Walking away may seem awkward initially, but it will prevent your child from saying or doing things they regret.

8. Practicing Effective Communication Skills

Effective communication skills entail expressing oneself without being rude or accusatory. Discuss these tips with your child to prevent emotions from running too high:

  • Use “I” statements such as “I felt quite hurt when you called me too talkative” instead of passing blame such as “You called me talkative because you don’t like listening!”
  • Plan conversation strategies in a journal and think of discussion points ahead.
  • Role-play with a trusted adult like a parent, teacher, or therapist.
  • Learn to use other words that mean “no,” such as stop, no thanks, not now, and I’m uncomfortable.

9. Respecting Others’ Opinions

Respecting others’ opinions means being tolerant and accepting differences. Occasionally, a conflict may not result in a win-win situation, but you can respectfully disagree.

Encourage your child to avoid jumping to conclusions too quickly. Practice thinking before acting by asking: Would these words or actions upset me? Is there a kinder way to say this? Am I treating this person how I would want to be treated?

10. Apologizing

We aren’t always right, and neither are our children. Apologizing is a necessary conflict resolution skill, as it teaches children to be accountable for their actions.

Learning all about apologizing also teaches kids to express remorse and make amends with others. A healthy apology will outline what your child is sorry for, why they are sorry, and what they can do to make up for their actions.

The Bottom Line

Conflict is unpleasant, whether for children, teens, or adults. However, learning to navigate them is a valuable tool you can apply in school and a professional setting.

Conflict resolution is an essential skill in social circles. Explore our other social skills worksheets to exercise healthy, well-rounded habits with your child.

Sources:

  1. Elicker J, Englund M, and Sroufe L. “Predicting Peer Competence and Peer Relationships in Childhood from Early Parent–Child Relationships.” Family-Peer Relationships, 2016.
  2. Ayebami T and Janet K. “Efficacy of anger management strategies for effective living among adolescents and youths.” IFE PsychologIA, 2017.
  3. Yarnell L. “Self-compassion, Interpersonal Conflict Resolutions, and Well-being.” Self and Identity, 2012.

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