Occasional quarrels between children are inevitable as they learn to work together and navigate the world. On the other hand, if you feel as if you're walking through a minefield daily and constantly settling disputes, it may be time to teach some conflict resolution skills. Children don't intuitively know how to settle fights peacefully, but they can learn with a few lessons from you. These lessons pave the way for more satisfying relationships, now and in adulthood.
Be an Example
Toddlers and preschoolers lack self-control and are quick to grab toys or lash out in anger. As kids get older, though, their interactions are largely based on the role models around them. If you yell at your partner, co-workers or even the driver in front of you on the freeway, kids will likely follow suit, notes Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills, Calif.-based child and family psychologist and author of "The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond With Your Child. "You can't expect your kids to be patient, courteous, and respectful unless you demonstrate the same when working out differences."
In the heat of anger, it's easy to lose sight of all the things you appreciate about a family member or friend, but this is an important step in resolving conflict. Teach kids to take a deep breath and acknowledge hurt feelings. Then help your child focus on the person, rather than the insult. Sit down to talk about the problem, but start the conversation with a positive statement about the other person, says Dr. Don MacMannis, Ph.D., clinical director of The Family Therapy Institute in Beverly Hills, Calif. and author of "How's Your Family Really Doing? 10 Keys to a Happy, Loving Family." Expressing appreciation for the other person sends the powerful message, "I'm mad now, but our relationship is the most important thing to me, and I'm willing to work this out."
Define the Problem
Teach your child to describe the problem clearly and accurately, advises MacMannis. Try comments such as, "I didn't like it when you took away my toys," or "I felt left out and sad when you ran away with your friends." These comments help the other child feel empathy and understanding because they describe an emotional reaction. At the same time, they're free of blame or judgment. Your role as parent is one of mediator, rather than judge. Listen and help kids find solutions, but be slow to jump in and take over.
Before your kids sit down to solve a conflict, ask them this important question: "What outcome do you hope for?" says Dr. Deborah Gilboa, M.D., a family care physician and author of "Teach Resilience: Raising Kids Who Can Launch." Kids should be able to articulate what they hope to gain, which might be as simple as "I want Brandon to stop teasing me" or "I want Ashley to ask before she uses my things." When kids can focus on solutions, negotiations are more likely to remain positive and productive. Kids should walk away with a clear understanding of what the expectations are and feel inspired to follow these guidelines.