Helping your child deal with conflict

Helping your child deal with conflict
The key words…
Perspective, Acknowledge, Resilience, Empathy, Nurture, Trust.

Felicity Barclay

Conflicts or disappointments are a natural part of the social world – for children and adults. 

Not many of us like conflict or challenging situations, however, it is often through working through these difficulties or conflicts that we grow and develop as people and that our relationships with others can become stronger. 

It is natural for parents to want their child or children to have a happy trouble free life. However, this is not realistic and probably not in your child’s best interests. 

While your child is at preschool, or in the park or wherever he/she is playing with other children – there will be times when another child hits or kicks or is mean to your child. There will also be times when your child is unkind to another, hurts someone or takes something they are playing with. 

It may not be pretty – but it’s part of everyday life in the playground. 

Children are learning about what it means and how it works to be part of a community. They are learning how to deal with situations when things don’t go their way. They are learning about turn taking, sharing, waiting for others to finish. They are learning that it’s not OK to hit someone – that using words instead of physicality is more helpful. They are learning what words to use in a conflict and learning what strategies to employ when things go wrong. 

This is where we adults come in – we play a big part in helping children to learn and to develop these skills and understandings. So what can we do? 

Here are some key words to remember when helping your child to learn social skills that will hopefully carry him/her throughout life: 

Perspective, Acknowledge, Resilience, Empathy, Nurture, Trust. 

1. Put things in PERSPECTIVE and help your child to do the same

Over reacting when one child hurts another (whether accidentally or intentionally) doesn’t help anyone. The way that the adults in a child’s world react when he/she falls from a slide or is hit by another child can really make a difference to the way your child perceives such challenges in the future. Rushing up to the 4 year old in the playground who just took your child’s spade or shoved him over and giving her a piece of your mind will do little to demonstrate to your child how to calmly yet assertively deal with conflict. 

Sure, it’s important to reassure your child and to let him know you’re on his side – but a sense of perspective is helpful. Remember – for the most part – playground skirmishes are common and short lived. It is a normal part of children’s growth, learning and development. 

2. Whether your child is the one being hurt or the one doing the hurting – take a moment and ACKNOWLEDGE each child’s feelings and thoughts. When conflict arises between two or more children, a moment of acknowledgment can go a long way in helping to diffuse the situation. 

- “OK it sounds like both you and your brother are really sad and frustrated at the moment” 
- “I know you really wanted to have a turn now and that you’re upset right now…”. Just as adults sometimes need a moment of acknowledgement in the midst of conflict, so too with children. 

3. Help your child to develop a sense of RESILIENCE.

Resilience is the capacity to bounce back after a set - back or challenge. The capacity to dust yourself off and to keep on going in the face of difficulties. Evidence suggests that people who are resilient have better health, live longer, happier and more successful and do better at school and at work. 

Resilience develops over time. Children develop resilience when they are given opportunities to practice skills, when they have adults around them who model resilience, when they have close attachments and relationships with the adults in their lives. 

Encourage your child to keep on trying. If he or she has a setback – encourage them to try again. Let them know that everyone makes mistakes. 

- “We all make mistakes – it’s the way we learn what to do next time”. 

Set an example of how you deal with situations when you make mistakes – “Oh dear Mum and Dad took the wrong turn – oh well we have discovered a lovely new street now!”. 

Model a positive attitude – “yes it’s a shame you were sick for the excursion – but you know what? Everyone gets sick sometimes and there will be lots more excursions and fun days to come!”. Let your child know that you are someone who looks on the bright or positive side, rather than seeing the negatives in a situation. 

Authentically remind your child of his/her strengths – Sometimes we can go a bit overboard in praising children – telling them that they are GREAT at everything. Keep it real, focus on the strengths.

“You are such a kind brother” “You spent so long on that puzzle” “Oh you’ve got a great sense of humour!” – Remember, strengths may not always need be tied to “achievement”. Strengths may be seen in values or virtues – Kindness, Patience, Gentleness for example. 

4. Help your child to develop EMPATHY.

Empathy is the capacity to see things from another person’s perspective. Empathy helps us in many ways: 

- To understand people
- To communicate more effectively
- To deal with problems and conflict more productively
- People with greater degrees of empathy are often seen as leaders
- To socialise and form relationships more easily. 

We can teach empathy by modelling it – show your child how you care for those around you. 
Use language that points to empathy and label emotions 

- “Oh - she must be feeling really sad about losing her puppy” 
- “I wonder how Sammy was feeling when he took your spade?....” 
- “That frightened your sister when you jumped out at her like that” 

Ask your child to think of ways he/she can care for others – 
- “What would Grandma like us to do for her – do you think she’d like us to take her some dinner?” 
- “Lucy has been sick – what could you do to cheer her up?” 

Read stories that explore themes around empathy. 

10 Picture Books that Spark Empathy
10 Children's Books that Teach Acceptance and Empathy

5. NURTURE your child.

The dictionary defines the word “nurture” as to care for and protect as well as to foster, encourage and to develop. In the context of helping your child to develop social skills and to negotiate conflict – this seems very appropriate. 

Plan ahead to be that parent that nurtures your child in the face of challenges. Verbal or physical reassurance goes a long way. A gentle word “Ouch that must have hurt – are you OK?” A reassuring hug –“come on let me give you a cuddle” helps too! 

However nurturing your child also involves helping him/her to learn, grow and develop. By all means comfort your child – especially if they have really hurt themselves. However, remember to keep that sense of perspective. 

Once you have supported and nurtured your child it’s important to help your child move on. Talking about it at length is not necessary. Nor is it necessary to question your child about other children who may have been involved, what he said, what she did for example. Focus on your child. 

“Ouch – I bet that hurt when she hit you with the spade.? That wasn’t very nice of her – she must have been feeling a bit cranky - shall we give it a bit of a rub? I’m sure you’ll be OK.” 

Talking with your child about what he/she might do next time if they experience a fall, a conflict or if someone hurts them can help them develop conflict resolution skills which can help lay a solid foundation for positive social interactions. “What could you do next time if Amy hurts you?.... Yes – you could say “Stop it! I don’t like that!” or you could find some other children to play with…. Or talk with a teacher? – These are all good things to do”. 


Finally – in order to help your child to deal with conflict in a constructive and positive way – it is important to let your child know that you trust your child - that he/she has the capacity to pick themselves back up and to deal with similar situations in the future. Particularly as your child grows older, it will be important that he/she is confident in his/her abilities to deal with conflict and challenges. 

It is also important to trust your child’s teachers. Teachers are (for the most part) skilled and experienced when it comes to helping the children in their care to work through conflicts. 

Often parents of children who have been hurt by another child are keen to know whether or not we have “spoken to the other child” or “spoken with the other parents”. 

For confidentiality reasons teachers will not discuss other children or parents with you. Nor will teachers discuss you or your child with other parents. However – you can rest assured and it is important that you trust that your child’s teachers will always talk with both children on both sides of a conflict. They will talk with both children about “using your words instead of hurting someone”. 

Teachers may not report minor instances to every parent – but if a child is continually hurting others or has had a challenging day involved in conflict with others, they will deal with it appropriately and talk with the parents about it. 

Trust yourself too – Parenting is hard enough without beating yourself up about the way you managed (or didn’t manage) a situation with your child. Trust in your own capacity for resilience – trust that next time you might handle things better or differently. Trust that the love and concern you have for your child will go a long way in helping him/her to develop positive, happy and successful relationships. 

P.A.R.E.N.T Perspective, Acknowledge, Reslilience, Empathy, Nurture, Trust 

Article by Felicity Barclay – MECh. Bed (EC), Dip Tch (EC) 
Preschool Director – Gordon Community Preschool

Felicity Barclay