How to Teach Kids Conflict Resolution Skills, the Easy Way!
Ahhhhhh, it’s Friday afternoon. The ONE day of the week where we don’t have ANY plans, activities, homework and I even have the evening off from cooking dinner. It’s THAT heavenly of a time for our family.
The kids are nowhere to be found and I am honestly enjoying the peace and quiet. I glance around the living room, from my comfy seat on the couch… nope – they are SOMEWHERE ELSE – and they are quiet, so what could possibly go wrong, right?!
After a few minutes of aimless Facebook scrolling, I hear the tell-tale blood-curling scream from our five-year old. This can only mean one thing: my break-time is over!
I climb the 17 steps up to the second floor, where the kids have been playing, or at least that’s where I hope they are.
I find all four kids engaged in a heated screaming match over which video game they should play. The two oldest are tired of playing “LEGO City,” which happens to be an all time favorite of our five-year old.
The youngest is staring at his brothers like a deer in head lights, as he’s holding a video game controller that broke two years ago. (We haven’t had the heart to tell him that his brothers trick him into thinking that he’s playing WITH them, when in fact his controller is dead and completely useless.)
After 11 years of parenting, I have broken up my share of verbal arguments. (Thankfully, our kids never throw punches at each other, so that’s at least a huge win!) On this particular Friday, after a long week of meetings, conferences, appointments and extra curricular activities, I have exceeded my weekly parenting quota – or so it feels.
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I take a deep breath, after I confirm that no one is hurt. I hear three versions of the same story from the oldest kids… and then I take another breath – because, seriously – how many times can one parent break up the same old fight?!
I spend the next 2 minutes and 17 seconds talking to the kids in an insanely calm tone of voice. You know, the universally-known soft-spoken mom voice that other parents immediate recognize as “THAT VOICE!”
I share, with the kids, the options they have to solve this particular argument. They can either STOP playing all together, OR they can compromise on a solution.
Without giving them any hints as to which solution would make the most sense, I briefly mention that they can take a break from “LEGO City” IF they set their brother’s expectation of when they will play that particular game again, even if it’s going to be a while.
I am running out of breath. One can only speak ever so calmly on the same topic so many times.
There are additional things I feel I should say, more lessons, but really – it’s just mom-babble. I am running low on my parenting mo-jo for the week. And most importantly, I know from experience, all four kids REALLY want to play together. I trust they will find the right solution.
I turn and leave the room. Without closing the door completely, I go back down stairs, but I don’t dare getting too comfortable, I know better.
Not six minutes pass before I hear screaming again. This time, it is a different sound, not sad or desperate, but rather a squeal of delight. Apparently the kids figured things out – all on their own.
When it’s time for dinner, I call the kids down and we discuss what happened earlier in the day.
Jordan (our 8 year old, and also the ring-leader) says with a twinkle in his eyes: “Mama, we decided together to stop playing video games and instead play with our LEGO Ninjago sets. We have been playing with LEGO since you left the room. We DID talk about LEGO City and decided to play that game again tomorrow evening, after you take us to the pool! Jansen was completely fine with it – especially because we are all going to the pool tomorrow. We are, going to the pool – right mama?”
And there you have it… sometimes, less is more when it comes to helping your kids through conflicts. We may actually do them a disservice if we swoop in and solve all their problems and settle their arguments.
As stated in one of my all time favorite parenting books: Play, by Iben Sandahl
“Playing does not mean that they are not learning. They might not be reading or playing the piano perfectly but they are learning social skills, how to regulate emotions, cope with stress and negotiate difficult situations.”
Learning conflict resolution skills during play time is a great opportunity for kids to “play” different roles in the negotiation process. Some times they set the terms of the solution or compromise, other times, they counter offer.
Play time is a safe environment for trail and error. The kids are among their peers, so they can push the limits of their negotiations further than when they are with adults.
In Play, The Danish Way, Iben talks about the importance of free play and how to create a playful atmosphere for you and your child. The premise is that children inherently WANT to play. When they are faced with conflicts during play, they WILL find a way to resolve the conflict, so they can get back to playing.
Sometimes the solution to their issue is a compromise, as it is in the “real world.” Through play, kids learn to negotiate, stand up for themselves and show empathy towards others.
“Play is the foundation stone of resilience in children. Resilience is important because it is the human capacity to face, overcome and be strengthened by, or even transformed by the adversities in life. Everyone faces adversities – no one is exempt.”
The greatest gift and biggest favor we can give our kids is to make them resilient human beings. It is not our job as parents to “just” provide shelter and food. We must also help our kids grow into strong individuals who are able to stand up for themselves and face any adversity life throws at them.
As parents, we won’t always be able to be present when our children are faced with tough decisions and conflicts. Our presence can be felt in the way we raised them, the tools we gave them throughout their childhood.
Next time your kids’ playtime ends in an arguement, as long as they are physically fine, give them a few ideas of ways they can resolve the disagreement, and then step back! You may just be surprised at their creative solution.
As the kids get older and develop better conflict resolution skills, your involvement won’t be needed as much.
Try it – and let me know what happens!
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