Conflict is, unfortunately, an inevitable part of life that we all must face at one point or another. It’s how we deal with this conflict that sets us apart from one another. Being able to deal with disagreements in a calm and rational matter is an important life skill that can affect everything from interpersonal relationships to academic performance.
Developing strong conflict resolution skills is a critical component of healthy childhood development. These skills lay the foundation for lifelong success at school, at home, and eventually, at work. Here, we go over the importance of conflict resolution for kids, and how adults can pass their hard-earned skills onto future generations.
What is Conflict Resolution?
Conflict resolution is the process of settling arguments or disputes in a calm, respectful manner. Being able to resolve conflicts with others is an important life skill that can help to improve emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills.
Conflict resolution isn’t always easy. It takes patience and practice, and for many of us, it can take decades to master. There are several emotional traps that people commonly fall into when resolving conflicts, including:
- Displaying a self-serving bias
- Having unrealistic expectations
- Being overconfident
- Having a negative attitude
- Acting out of anger
- Avoiding confrontation
Fortunately, there are several different methods of conflict resolution that we can use to deescalate arguments and settle disputes. Some of the most common ways that people resolve conflicts everywhere from the schoolyard to the office include:
- Open discussion and negotiation
- Mediation with a neutral third party
- Arbitration with a third party
- Civil litigation through legal channels
Young children typically don’t have strong conflict resolution skills. They have trouble taking turns, sharing, and assigning roles during play. Most children rely on mediation with the help of an adult when settling disputes at a young age. They need to build up their conflict resolution skills before they can turn to tactics such as solo negotiation.
Important Conflict Resolution Skills
Conflict resolution is a complex skill set that requires a deep understanding of both yourself and others. There are several areas that can help to improve confidence in conflict resolution, regardless of your age.
One of the most important skills when it comes to settling disputes is the ability to listen. This doesn’t just mean hearing another person’s words, however. It means thinking them through, analyzing them, and coming to an understanding of what that person is truly trying to say.
When listening, it’s important to focus on the other person instead of thinking about your own responses. You should also pay close attention to their tone, posture, facial expression, and body language. These can give you clues as to how someone is truly feeling, even if they aren’t verbalizing it fully.
Being able to speak clearly and concisely is just as important a part of conflict resolution as listening. You need to be able to express your thoughts, needs, and emotions in a way that’s both accurate and respectful to everybody in the room.
Children often have trouble communicating their feelings because they don’t yet have the vocabulary or knowledge to do so. The adults in their lives should take every possible opportunity to teach them interpersonal skills such as conflict resolution, talking everything through to help children build their language and communication skills.
Social-emotional skills are vital to peaceful and productive conflict resolution. This is the skill set related to understanding, expressing, and managing emotions. It allows us to stay calm when we’re angry or upset and think about things from an objective, rational perspective.
Unfortunately, many children haven’t had the chance to develop a strong foundation of emotional intelligence. Many kids learn conflict resolution and emotional control simultaneously, as the two often go hand-in-hand.
One of the best ways to gauge how much control a child has over their emotional state is to look at their ability to delay gratification. Kids have to be able to stay calm and focused if they want to put off getting what they want for a reward later on. In fact, delaying gratification is one of the strongest indicators of future success in young children.
Part of social-emotional development is learning how to place oneself in another’s shoes. Empathy is an important aspect of conflict resolution and allows us to see an issue from multiple perspectives. We can think beyond our own needs and feelings to understand those of a peer or partner.
Like conflict resolution, empathy has to be taught to young children. Adults need to show kids how to overcome selfish urges for the good of a group. Explain how altruistic acts can benefit everybody, even if there’s no immediate reward. You can also teach kids how to recognize the signs of different emotions in others.
To solve a conflict, you need to be able to dedicate your full concentration to the matter at hand. If you allow your mind to drift, you may miss a key piece of information or overlook something vital to settling the issue.
Both children and adults must focus when resolving conflicts. As they discuss the issue with others, they need to listen and understand everything that’s being said. Conversely, when speaking, people need to concentrate on speaking in a calm and rational matter without getting distracted by emotion.
Coming up with effective compromises in a dispute requires strong problem-solving skills. You need to be able to think creatively and come up with novel solutions that are outside the box. You also have to be able to evaluate each solution, weighing the pros and cons while understanding any potential consequences.
As kids develop their problem-solving skills, their ability to resolve conflicts becomes stronger. Parents and teachers can encourage the development of independent, critical thinking in school-age children to help promote better problem-solving abilities.
The Benefits of Conflict Resolution Skills
Conflict resolution is an important social skill that allows children to get along with the people around them, including both peers and adults. It lays the foundation for successful relationships both at present and later in life.
Being able to resolve disputes in a calm and productive manner also helps to keep stress levels low. High stress levels are unhealthy for a developing child and can stunt emotional, behavioral, and even physical growth.
Learning how to resolve conflict can also boost a child’s self-confidence. Learning how to assert themselves and solve problems in a positive way can help to make them feel better about themselves and their abilities. It can also help to reduce anxiety in social situations, especially for shy or introverted kids.
Strong conflict management skills are necessary for goal achievement. Even if children know how to set personal and academic goals, they’ll have difficulties overcoming the obstacles that they face if they don’t know how to stay calm and resolve issues productively.
Even once kids are out of school, their conflict resolution skills will continue to serve them in adulthood. They can help people to find better jobs, land promotions, maintain healthy relationships, and much more.
Building a foundation of conflict resolution skills benefits children far beyond the scope of just settling arguments. It touches on all areas of life, from social-emotional progress to interpersonal skills. Conflict resolution also encourages critical thinking, helping to build problem-solving skills that can help kids to succeed in all areas of life.
Teaching Kids Conflict Resolution Skills
As much as we’d like to believe that we are, humans aren’t born with conflict resolution skills. Our natural instinct is to look out for ourselves and our families. However, if this were the state of society, it would come to a grinding halt. Even world leaders must learn healthy conflict resolution skills or risk escalating simple issues on an international scale.
Adults have a responsibility to impart their knowledge to the next generation. It’s only in this way that we can avoid the mistakes of the past. There are several key steps to helping kids deal with disagreements and come out the other side successful.
Identifying the Problem
Children aren’t always forthcoming about their personal issues. It’s vital that adults in their lives pay attention and take action as needed. Even if they don’t outright admit that there’s a problem, other cues can clue you as to how they’re doing.
The first step towards teaching healthy conflict resolution is to identify issues a child is already having. For example, when playing, raised voices can mean a dispute with a friend. Conversely, coming home with bruises can mean a dispute with a bully.
Before you can help, you have to be able to identify the issue at hand, even if the child can’t tell you themselves. Talk to them in a calm, cool, and collected manner while avoiding an overly emotional response. In this way, you teach the child how to assess a situation rationally.
Acting calm in the face of an emotional storm helps to exemplify how to act in a tense situation. It makes a tense situation less stressful and helps children tap into their feelings in a more healthy way. You can also introduce strategies to help children pinpoint their problems without feeling overwhelmed.
There are a couple of ways that you can help even young kids to get their emotions under wraps and calm down enough to observe the situation objectively. Some of the most effective strategies include:
- Controlled Breathing
- Counting to Ten
- Tense and Release
- Visualization Exercises
While these skills may not always be an end-all solution, they can make a world of difference when it comes to emotional management. Children are better able to stop, take a step back, and calm down before addressing a conflict. In this way, they can build an effective argument and avoid alienating those opposing them.
Listening and Understanding
Once you’ve isolated the issue at hand, you can begin the process of working through it together with any children involved. Verbalizing their thoughts and feelings not only helps to calm kids down but also gives them the tools that they’ll need to settle disputes in the future.
You should sit down with each child and have them take turns talking about their part in the conflict. Make sure that you tell the kids to be respectful of each other and not interrupt outside of their turn. You should ask each child what happened and how they feel about it.
Instead of using blame statements, encourage children to begin sentences with “I feel” and “I need.” This will help to keep everybody calm and focused without resulting in any hurt feelings. It will also improve their social-emotional skills. Stronger emotional control will give kids an advantage in later life and help with skills far beyond just conflict resolution.
In addition to teaching kids what to say, you also have to let them know what they shouldn’t say. Sometimes it’s best to keep hurtful or unproductive thoughts to ourselves during a conflict. Teach children how to be respectful and tactful as they discuss issues with their peers to avoid escalating the situation.
Not only does openly discussing disputes with children improve their understanding of their own emotions, but also those of others. As each child speaks, encourage the others to engage in active listening. It’s important for them to remember that there’s another person involved in the conflict, and it’s not just their thoughts and feelings on the line.
Active listening is where a listener fully focuses on another’s words with the objective of understanding, remembering, and responding to what’s being said. As they listen, kids will also pick up a better understanding of nonverbal cues such as facial expression, tone of voice, and body language.
A greater capacity for empathy helps to improve a child’s conflict resolution skills. When they can understand a dispute from the other person’s point of view, they’ll be better equipped to settle the issue in a way that works for everybody.
Once you’ve heard all the sides of an argument, you should repeat what each child has said in your own words. This lets them know that their voice has been heard and that you understand the situation from every angle. It also helps to build stronger conflict resolution skills by giving children even more ways to express themselves.
As you go through the issue at hand, help the children involved to scale the conflict appropriately. While classroom spats may seem like a big deal to a young child, you can help them to put things in perspective. Help them to rank issues from insignificant to severe, and teach them how to pick and choose their battles without blowing anything out of proportion. It’s also important to help kids understand when they can handle a problem on their own, and when they need to seek out an adult for help
Coming Up with a Solution
After approaching the conflict from every angle, children have all the information that they need to come up with a resolution. You can help to facilitate a brainstorming session where all parties try to come up with a viable solution.
As an adult, you shouldn’t tell children how to resolve their disputes. Rather, give them the tools that they’ll need to settle conflicts by themselves later in life when there’s no authority figure to intervene.
One of the best ways to teach kids how to assess potential solutions to a disagreement is by showing them how to identify win-win, win-lose, and lose-lose situations. This will allow them to come up with ideas for a compromise that’s fair to all parties involved. You can also give them a list of different strategies to add to their conflict resolution arsenal, including:
- Choose to engage in a different activity
- Go calm down and approach the problem later
- Apologize and move on
- Compensate the offended party
- Find a different way to interact and communicate
- Walk away and forget the issue
It’s best for children to brainstorm multiple solutions to a problem before settling on one. They can analyze each idea to see if it’s win-win, win-lose, or lose-lose. Eventually, they’ll be able to narrow down the list to a single win-win compromise.
Once the children you’re with reach a decision, you should go over the conflict once more and explain the solution that they’ve chosen in their own words. This will help to cement the conflict resolution lessons that you’ve imparted.
If necessary, you can help to guide the children by giving suggestions for ideal compromises. However, at the end of the day, you should always take a step back and let kids reach their own conclusions. Though they may make mistakes, you can teach them to take it as a learning opportunity.
By letting every child have his or her say when settling a dispute, you can make sure that everybody feels their opinions are valued and respected. This helps to ensure a peaceful resolution where everybody comes out on the other side as friends.
Moving On with Life
Once everybody has agreed on a win-win compromise, you can help kids put their solution into action. For example, if they decide the best route is to apologize, oversee the apology, and make sure that everybody acts in a genuine and heartfelt manner. If they choose to compensate a party, ensure that every child received what was agreed upon.
Just because a dispute has been officially settled, however, doesn’t mean that it’s over in a child’s eyes. Some kids have a harder time letting things go and moving on than others, even after settling on a win-win solution.
There are a couple of things that can help children to move on from conflict without any hard feelings. It’s crucial that children feel as if their voice was heard when settling a dispute, and that they feel like the other party cares as much as they do about the issue. It also helps if children settle arguments in a way that they personally see as fair.
You may have to help children learn to move on in a healthy and constructive manner. Helping them to work out their issues with their peers is only part of the equation. After a dispute, make sure that all of the children involved understand their feelings. If they have any negative thoughts or emotions regarding the issue, help them to work through their frustration.
Have kids reflect on the conflict after the fact and ask themselves how they feel about the whole thing. Also, have them think about what it must have felt like to be in the other party’s shoes. Help them to see the benefits of the compromise they chose, both from their own perspective and from that of their peers.
Tips for Teaching Conflict Resolution Skills
None of us are born with conflict resolution skills. If you’ve ever watched young children playing together, you know that humans can be selfish and unforgiving by nature. It’s up to adults, whether they be parents, teachers, or other authority figures, to teach children how to settle their disputes healthily.
It’s best to begin teaching conflict resolution as early as possible. In this way, you normalize the process so that it becomes second nature as time goes on. Younger brains also display greater plasticity, which means that they’re able to form and break neural connections more easily during the learning process. This makes childhood one of the best times to learn a new skill, especially a complex one like conflict resolution.
Children are never too young to learn social skills. Even as babies, children carefully observe the world around them and pick up cues based on how the adults in their lives behave. That’s why the best way to teach a young child conflict resolution skills is to lead by example.
Acting as a role model for social-emotional development can help kids to pick up important social-emotional skills even before they’ve reached a verbal stage. If you approach conflict with a calm, cool demeanor, children around you are more likely to follow suit next time they find themselves in a disagreement.
You can teach by example by working through your own interpersonal conflicts in front of children. You can also guide a child through their own conflicts. Just remember that each person has their own style of conflict resolution, and it may not match your own ideas.
Each time a child gets into a disagreement, either with you, other children, or even another adult, you can embrace the opportunity as a teachable moment. Walk them through how to approach the issue, and help them to come up with their own solutions.
You should remember that when teaching kids conflict resolution skills, it’s best to shelve your own opinions. While most kids need help learning social skills, impressing your own views on a child can do more harm than good. Always aim to guide, rather than to lead.
For example, if a child is having issues with a classmate, it’s best not to tell them explicitly how to proceed. Instead, help them to come to their own conclusions. Even if you see holes in their plan, one of the best ways to help people to build social skills is by letting them fail and learn from their mistakes.
You should also remember that the child should be the one with the power when facilitating discussion. You should always come down to the child’s level, either by sitting with them, kneeling, or squatting. This will help to put them at ease and make you seem more like an equal than an authority figure.
With help, eventually, children won’t need outside help to solve disagreements. As they grow older, they’ll learn more about how to function on a social level without the help of their mentors. With this approach, children won’t be left floundering once they’re old enough to leave the house. They’ll have the foundation of independent conflict resolution skills that they need to solve issues on their own in high school, college, the workplace, and beyond.
From playground spats to office drama, conflict is a natural and unabating part of our lives. If we want to function as a society, we need to make sure that both adults and children alike are able to resolve their disputes in a productive, equitable and nonviolent way.
Conflict resolution isn’t an innate skill. Rather, it needs to be taught to all of us at a young age. Without a proper foundation for settling agreements, children may find themselves pushed to the wayside in the future when it comes to jobs, relationships, and more.
By teaching this important skill set to the next generation, we give children the tools that they need for a lifetime of successful relationships. By helping to mediate disputes, we show children the best way to approach conflict, and how to resolve issues with minimal stress and strife. With these skills, kids can grow up to become happy and productive members of society.