How to help kids deal with conflict

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How to help kids deal with conflict

There are several simple ways to teach your children how to deal with conflict in a positive way. The opportunities abound every day -- in the car, at the dinner table, during play dates and in the schoolyard.

Disagreements and differences of opinion will always be a natural part of relationships with friends and family members, from childhood into adulthood.

In fact, it can even be healthy for children to experience some conflict (within reason) as it helps minimize their fear of the negative consequences of sharing their emotions.

Seeing others resolving their differences in a healthy, respectful manner shows children how to coexist and co-operate in all kinds of situations. We spoke with some parents about how easy it can be to teach children of all ages about conflict resolution.

1. Teach them to compromise and respect
"Even as early as kindergarten we try to teach compromise. If five kids want to play with one toy, they have to wait and take turns. We say 'I know you're feeling angry but...' and 'Don't use your hands, use your words.'" 
-- Cathy, mother of two and kindergarten teacher, London, Ont.

2. Follow through on your word
"My sons are nine and seven, and I don't do anything really revolutionary, but if I have to remind them that we have a 'no hitting or the Nintendo DS gets taken away' rule, I always follow through."
-- Karen, mother of two, Kingston, Ont.

3. Think quality over quantity
"Fairness is a big source of conflict in our household. We try to squash the scorekeeping of 'She got this/He got that' by putting the focus on the quality rather than the quantity. Our son plays rep hockey, which is quite expensive. Rather than trying to spend equivalent dollars on our daughter, we have special spa days and treat her in other ways that are more meaningful to her."
-- Tahra, mother of two, Belleville, Ont.

4. Make your kids accountable for their actions
"If one of my boys has hurt the other, he always has to apologize, and more than a quick 'Sorry.' The perpetrator has to acknowledge what he did and why he is sorry. We are big on respect in our house."
-- Nicole, mother of three, Cornerbrook, N.S.

5. Think about the consequences
"At school the rule is: If you're having a conflict, go get a teacher or just walk away. If someone was mean to you and you were mean back, you're both going to be in trouble, so what could you do differently to avoid that consequence? It's pretty effective, most of the time."
-- John, father of two and elementary school teacher, Guelph, Ont.

6. No hitting rule
"We have a five-year-old and an 18-month-old, and someone gave us a great book called Hands Are Not for Hitting (Free Spirit, 2006). It's a great way to start a conversation that our older daughter can understand about being gentle with a younger sibling."
-- Kerry, mother of two, Calgary

7. Take responsibility
"As they get older the conflicts are not as simple as who-hit-whom or who didn't get invited to whose birthday party. We try to teach our 10-year-old to be responsible for his actions -- that in life there are always going to be things and people he doesn't like or get along with. But if you can be agreeable and adaptable, you are actually resolving the conflict before it happens."
-- Sarah, mother of one, Lethbridge, Alta.

8. Forgive and forget
"I find my kids are the ones who teach me about conflict resolution! They have such a great capacity to forgive and forget, so much more than adults. One minute they're engaged in mortal combat, the next minute all is forgotten and they're playing happily together again."
-- Scott, father of two, Bowmanville, Ont.

By giving children the tools they need to understand that their actions affect others, and by encouraging respect, forgiveness and compromise, you are laying a foundation of conflict resolution skills that they will build on throughout their lives. Conflict is inevitable, but having the means to deal with it fairly and positively is an invaluable life lesson for kids of all ages.
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How to help kids deal with conflict