5 Steps to Help Kids Resolve Conflicts

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I’ve always considered myself non-confrontational and have done my best to avoid conflict. In researching ways to teach kids conflict resolution skills, I’ve discovered that avoidance is actually a choice on the “Conflict Resolution Wheel.” I’m primarily a “walk away” or “go play with somebody else” conflict resolver.

And, perhaps because I try to “use kind words and a friendly voice” most of the time, I’m able to steer clear of many conflict situations. I know that my technique is not always the best way to resolve conflicts, nor has it worked in every situation, so I’ve learned to “talk together & work it out” with people in my life who are important to me. Because people aren’t perfect and relationships are messy, we all need to learn how to better resolve conflicts.

What kind of conflict resolver are you?

What about your kids? How do they resolve conflicts?

Over my three decades at camp working with thousands of kids and teens, I’ve noticed that kids have become less and less adept at solving their own problems and conflicts. They are quick to involve adults and call other kids names (“bully” is a favorite).

I think they’ve become so accustomed to constant adult supervision that they are prone to seek it immediately, especially when they’re in an uncomfortable situation. There’s nothing wrong with seeking direction, especially when adult intervention is needed, but I want to be sure our counselors are armed with good skills for giving campers guidance on conflict resolution, rather than just providing kids with the solution itself. All too often, we parents tend to rescue our kids from conflict; at camp, kids have a great opportunity to learn to solve such challenges on their own. One of our goals, then, is to prepare counselors to teach campers conflict resolution strategies, which the kids can use in similar situations at home (like with their siblings!).

5 Steps to Resolve Conflicts

CALM DOWN

Give everyone a chance to take a breather from each other. Ask them each what they need to do to calm down. The “wheel” offers some good choices, like walking away and taking a break for a few minutes, counting to 10 (or 100!), or writing down some feelings. In any case, nothing coherent will come from trying to lead a discussion with upset, emotionally fragile kids. So ask them to figure out the best way to calm down before attempting to solve the problem.

STATE & UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEM

Once calm has prevailed, talk to each child (either together or separately, depending on the circumstances) and help them state their problem. Stress the importance of being honest and admitting their role in the conflict (most problems are shared). Encourage them to use “I” statements to express their feelings. For example, “I felt left out and hurt because he wouldn’t let me play the card game, so I threw his towel to annoy him.”

APOLOGIZE WELL

“A good apology will communicate three things: regret, responsibility, and remedy. Apologizing for a mistake might seem difficult, but it will help you repair and improve your relationships with others.” http://www.wikihow.com/Apologize

Encourage each child (or only one, depending on the circumstances) to come up with a good apology. Writing it down before they say it can be a good start, and that letter can be given to the child with whom they’re in conflict. Or, with a younger child, take some notes that they can then use as they apologize. I found a great list of what makes a “good apology,” so it’s best if the child can include all of these parts:

•  Use the words, “I’m sorry.”
•  Acknowledge exactly how you messed up. (As in, “I used unkind words that hurt you.”)
•  Tell the person how you’ll fix the situation.
•  Promise to behave better next time.
•  Ask for forgiveness.

Bad apologies, on the other hand, tend to suffer from these four shortcomings: Justifying words or behavior; Blaming the victim; Making excuses; Minimizing the consequences. (“It was just a joke!”)

PROMOTE SOLUTION FINDING

Empower children to brainstorm solutions to their conflict. It’s so tempting as an all-knowing adult to generate solutions, but something the kids think up and agree upon on their own will more likely work. Encourage each child to listen carefully and to accurately paraphrase each other. Encourage them to speak to each other (not you) and to speak honestly and kindly. (For a sample dialogue format, see Coaching Children in Handling Everyday Conflicts).

FOLLOW UP

Follow up with the children to see how they are getting along and if the solution they came up with is working. But if the “talk together/work it out” strategy isn’t working for this pair, it’s best to suggest my go-to strategy: find someone else to hang out with. Even if the kids appear to need a prolonged break from one another, they will still be required to speak in a kind and respectful way when they are interacting.

As I wrote this post, I realized that any time I used the word “kid” or “child,” I could easily have used the word “person.” Learning these conflict resolution techniques, and even using the “wheel” and its options, could help a lot of us adults, don’t you think?

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how big is my problem

P.S. I didn’t have anywhere to fit this in the post, but I just loved this “How Big is My Problem” poster, which you can order through Teachers Pay Teachers. How often do kids (and adults) communicate a “glitch” or “little problem” as if it’s a “gigantic problem” or an “emergency”? Wouldn’t it be great if we all agreed to keep the same problem scale? We could walk into our co-worker’s office and say, “I’ve got #2 problem today. Can you help me?”

5 Steps to Help Kids Resolve Conflicts

If you enjoy reading Sunshine Parenting, please subscribe to get my weekly email where I share my most recent posts and podcast episodes. You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest, where I regularly post links to articles and ideas about summer camp, friendship skills, and parenting. Thank you for reading, and have a happy day with your kids!

Related Podcast Episodes

Ep. 2: 10 Friendship Skills Every Kid Needs

Ep. 60: The Importance of Outdoor, Child-Directed Free Play

Ep. 45: Social Media Wellness with Ana Homayoun 

Want to read more about the social skills kids need to become thriving adults?

Why Kids Need to Get Uncomfortable
5 Steps to Raising a Problem Solver
10 Friendship Skills Every Kid Needs
More Than “I’m Sorry” – Teaching Kids to Apologize Well
10 Ways to Teach Kids to Calm Down
Making Friends: 3 Communication Skills Your Child Needs
Making Friends: Managing Difficult Emotions
Making Friends: Developing Emotional Intelligence

And some additional resources:

Coaching Children in Handling Everyday Conflicts

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