How you react to conflict will teach your children how to react to conflict when they encounter it. The lessons given by your example can make or break the way your children see and deal with life’s ups and downs.
When a child experiences conflict, he or she needs to understand the facts. Painting a “rosy” picture of a bad situation will not help a child feel safe or less worried.
Parents can’t nor should they want to shield their children totally from life’s realities. Why? When parents help guide children through appropriate steps in dealing with conflict, the children become more capable of dealing with conflict on their own.
Conflict comes in many forms. Children may see conflict on TV or they may experience bullying at school. They may hear unkind words on the bus or see physical attacks on people they know. They may experience the conflict between two parents leading up to and following a divorce.
Conflict Resolution: Teaching Children
Teaching children how to handle conflict must be age appropriate. A good way to begin to teach children will depend on finding out how much they know about a situation. A good open-ended question might be, “What do you know about…?” The next step should be asking other open-ended questions such as, “Why do you think that is happening or what do you think can be done to help?”
Acknowledge their worry and concerns. Offer comments like, “I understand that you are worried about… but remember that…” The goal is that you want to do what it takes to make your child feel more secure about a difficult or conflictive situation. You must understand that children are not comforted when parents are not honest with them.
Reassure your children honestly and age appropriately. Your children will watch your reactions and your feelings. It is important for you to share “to a degree” your feelings about a situation with them. If you are anxious, you will pass your anxiety on to your children. Saying something like, “That makes me feel sad too. Let’s try to think of something we can do to make things better.”
Understand that your children may be in possession of misinformation. It is your responsibility as a parent to clear up their confusion without being judgmental or defensive.
Children often see things as black or white. They personalize things that happen and worry about their own wellbeing.
Don’t assume that because you had one conversation with your child it will be sufficient. Leave the door open for further conversations and expect some of the same questions or comments to be repeated.
Children must feel safe and secure if they are to grow into emotionally healthy adults. As difficult as it may be for you, you need to put aside your own baggage for the sake of your children.