**Disclaimer: In rare circumstances and extreme situations, it may be inappropriate for children to handle problems independently or to take an active part in the resolution process. Use wise judgment and/or consider seeking counsel from an educational advocate if the situation is complex. Ok, now for all other situations, consider the following guidelines as options for teaching conflict resolution:
Let me stress the importance of parental modeling of HEALTHY conflict resolution. As parents, we are always teaching whether intentionally and directly or unintentionally and indirectly. Our children are watching and learning and will replicate the behaviors we model. Keep in mind when a child tells about a conflict with a school authority figure it is usually for two basic reasons. First, the child may simply need empathy, reassurance and encouragement. Secondly, the child may be recounting the event because they need support in dealing with the situation. It is a great idea to ask if the child has a plan or ideas about how to deal with the situation. Ask, “What do you think you are going to do next?” It is a great training strategy to ask if suggestions or additional support is needed. We should not immediately assume the child needs us to intervene, although that may be our first inclination. An important part of the educational process includes learning the skills to manage life and future conflicts. If parents “rush in” as rescuers, we may lead children to feel LESS cared for as they may interpret the response as a lack of confidence in their ability to handle situations.
Our children have a very strong connection to our hearts and we have a very strong desire to protect, defend and care for them. As parents, we must understand our natural responses and work to be mindful of how each new challenge is an opportunity for growth and empowerment.
We want to respond to each difficult situation with the prefrontal cortex (the reasoning and decision making part of our brain) fully engaged and functioning well. It can be very easy to slip into the limbic system of the brain (controls our emotion and brain functions related to our memories). When our emotions take over, we are at risk of making emotionally charged decisions based upon personal memories. Often, we will later regret these decisions and lament seeing our emotionally charged behaviors replicated in our child’s interactions with others, including authority figures.
We have three options as the parent of a child who is experiencing conflict:
1. If we can function in the role of encourager and supportive listener, that may be all the loving support our child needs. This option may help the child feel empowered to problem solve with stronger skills in place for the future. As children mature, this becomes the “go to” option.
2. If the child expresses the need for help and ideas, we can give an array of possible solutions and allow the child to choose the option they feel may be the best fit for the situation. This option helps empower children to make good choices and solve issues independently, building a stronger self-identity. Follow-up helps keep the child accountable and gives an opportunity for further encouragement, care and support. During the skill-building phase, this option may be used and repeated.
3. If the child requests our support, and our encouragement to problem solve on their own is rejected with doubts and fears, we can continue to encourage the child by including them in the resolution process. For example, if a meeting is scheduled with the educator we can invite the child into the meeting to learn, contribute, and weigh the options for resolution. We can model and help build skills with the child in the role of observer. If it is NOT possible for the child to be a part of the resolution process, we can debrief the child about the interactions and decisions. This option is used with younger or immature children. It should be used sparingly and as briefly as possible.
Remember, you are preparing your child for adult life. It is an important part of our job as parents to teach and model the HEALTHY skills necessary for conflict management and resolution. We want to train empowerment around conflict not reinforce the desire to avoid or fear conflict. Be brave, be mindful and lead well.
Heather Lambert, LPC www.clearhopecounseling.com