With one child, her chatter can be music to our ears. But, when they're two or three and fighting, a parent suddenly becomes a referee, as one of our favorite anecdotes go. It’s not unusual for school age kids to get into arguments, disagreements or fights with a sibling or a classmate and friend. But our job as parents is to help them resolve these conflicts peacefully. In fact, it's an essential skill parents need to teach their children, says child psychologist, best-selling author, and parenting expert Dr. Michele Borba.
“The key point is that not only must your child learn how to solve problems but do so in a peaceful, calm way so that all the kids involved feel like they’ve won. That’s called a win-win scenario, and it’s the best way to reduce arguments and restore friendships,” Dr. Borba writes on her blog. This problem-solving skill will help your child become a more self-sufficient and resourceful individual who is able to deal with trickier issues, she adds.
If your kids are prone to fighting, the first step you need to teach them is to calm down whenever they feel strong emotions like anger and frustration, says Dr. Borba. “It’s impossible to think how to solve a problem if you’re upset,” says Dr. Borba. When they are calmer, that's when they can understand and articulate why they are upset. So tell them to take a breather. If that isn't going to work, keep the children in separate rooms, Dr. Borba advises.
This first step is to help them identify and recognize emotions whenever they feel them. One tip to help young kids identify emotions is to point them out, give them names (e.g. sad, happy, angry) and explain them using easy words whenever you see your child going through them, according to Kendra Moyses, a child and family educator at Michigan State University.
Once emotions are under control, let your kids figure out how they can resolve the conflict with the help of this useful pie chart from Dr. Borba. Go through each one with your child.
“Rock, paper, scissors” can solve disagreements on taking turns. Accidents and small slights can be resolved with “Ignore it,” “Walk away and let it go,” and “Go to another activity.” A situation where “Tell them to stop!” can be applied when a sibling or a friend is teasing or being mean.
“Talk it out” and “Use an 'I' message (like ‘I feel angry when you don’t ask permission to borrow my stuff’)” is especially helpful to older kids who have more developed communication and empathy skills.
“Keep reinforcing a realistic approach to help your kids solve problems until they can confidently do so on their own,” says Dr. Borba. The best way is, Dr. Borba recommends, is to model peaceful conflict resolution yourself. Be mindful that your child is looking up to you, and live out these steps whenever you get into any conflict at home, especially when it’s with your child.
The tips above are part of the “S.T.A.N.D.” method developed by Dr. Borba that’s designed to help kids solve conflicts amicably. Read and learn the five steps in full here.