In an ideal world, we would all get along, all the time. But the world is not ideal and conflicts do happen. There are spats and full-blown fights between siblings, friends, partners, strangers, parents and children. Instead of pretending conflicts don’t happen, accept that they do — and take the opportunity to teach your children how to fight fair.
If you decide to teach your kids about respectful, responsible conflict management, you are not okaying conflict. You are not telling your kids it’s okay to fight. You are teaching them a helpful and necessary set of skills that will help them manage relationships and interactions throughout their lives — and it may even lead to less fighting and conflict.
Acknowledge the power of emotions
Encourage your kids to take responsibility for the full range of their emotions. Acknowledge that emotions are complex and sometimes unpredictable — and they are no excuse for bad behavior. Learning to channel emotions constructively may take a lifetime of work. Just look at your own experiences! It’s well worth it to start that effort early.
Lead by example
Kids learn as much from what you don’t do as what you do. If your kids see you engaging in conflict constructively and respectfully, they will learn from that. Conversely, if your kids see you engaging in destructive behaviors in conflicts, they learn from that, too. When you and your partner are having a tough time of it, it’s stressful enough. When that conflict includes name calling and screaming and ultimatums, it’s even worse. So don’t.
Since disagreements with family or friends are almost inevitable, role playing how your child might respond to a conflict can help tremendously. You can set up common situations (think back to your own childhood) and suggest constructive responses — as well as ways to empathize with the other person in the conflict.
Coach instead of intervene
When conflicts arise between your kids, it’s natural to want to jump in, stop the arguing and decide the resolution on your kids’ behalf. However, this is a great opportunity to coach your kids through constructive conflict, to teach them how to fight fair. Think negotiation and compromise instead of mom as fix it person.
While empathy may be one of the harder topics to teach our kids, reminding our kids (and ourselves) that on the other side of every conflict is another person with real feelings and hurts is powerful. That simple reminder can change the tone of almost any conflict.
Fights, whether with friends or family, are an unfortunate, uncomfortable reality. Teaching your kids how to manage that conflict gracefully — how to fight fair — is a gift not only to your child, but to every relationship your child has, now and in the future.