Children, like adults, have disagreements with others from time to time. These conflicts happen with playmates, friends, brothers and sisters. When family conflicts occur, how well children resolve them is dependent on how parents have intervened in the past and what has been taught about solving problems.
There are times when parents should intervene in sibling disagreements and times when parents should let the children work the situation out on their own. The problem with parental intervention is that we might take sides with one child over the other; we might be upset ourselves and not able to think of solutions; and children need to develop skills for resolving conflicts and solving problems. Parents should intervene when:
- there is threat of pain or injury
- there are prolonged or repeated arguments over the same problem
- there is a power imbalance
- children are extremely emotional and not in control of themselves
In teaching children how to resolve conflicts, we need to remember that younger children need more help from parents. They don't know how to solve problems with words. They only know physical methods such as pushing, taking something, or maybe biting. Older children have some experience in resolving conflict with friends, but still need practice. Older children benefit from a balance of parental guidance and independence. With this in mind, there are some guides for teaching conflict resolution.
- Calm emotions, yours and your children's. When emotions are high and strong, we aren't able to think of reasonable solutions.
- Let children give their side of the story without interruption.
- Help them name the problem and try to see the point of view of others, including your neutral view as the parent.
- Brainstorm possible solutions and then decide which solutions would work for the family.
- Try out the solution and adjust as needed.
Conflicts and disagreements are a part of living in families. Maintaining a peaceful household takes encouragement for children to work out problems on their own; offering assistance if they need help; and appreciation for the times children do cooperate and resolve their conflicts without parental intervention.
Reprinted with the permission of the University of Missouri. © 2008 — Curators of the University of Missouri