Thursday, February 26, 2009

Conflict Resolution Skills for Kids

In the last several posts, we have talked about dealing with various misbehaviors … disobedience, attention-getting, breaking rules and routines and acting out aggressively or deliberately hurting others. But, not all negative behaviors are misbehaviors. Sometimes children may act out inappropriately in an attempt to solve a real life problem.

Whenever Suzie starts to play on the computer, all of a sudden Billy wants to play and demands that it is his turn. They shout and fight, then push and shove. Their parents (thinking they are helping them) have told them to learn to solve the problem on their own, and not to be a tattle-tale. But all they are learning is how to hit harder. If a child genuinely needs help, he needs to be able to get it. If we teach children that “telling on someone” is wrong, we are stealing an important resource that should be available to them. It is important for children to know that they can get help when they need it, because sometimes when they have done everything right, they still may not be able to resolve the conflict. This is frustrating to the healthy child, and it enforces the belief that “good behavior is ineffective in the real world.”

God has put authority in place to protect us and enforce the “laws of the land” or “rules of the house.” Children should be learning that they can turn to authority for justice rather than taking that law into their own hands. A healthy view of authority maintains that authority is good and can be called upon to bring some kind of justice to a situation. Children should not have to resort to retaliation or self-defense. That is why parents, teachers and police are there (Romans 13). When children are left to fend for themselves, they develop streetwise skills: watch your back, get revenge, fight fire with fire. And when they are taught that parents do not have the role of helping kids with their problems, children find their own means for survival. These children believe that they should only interact with their peers, and exclude the adult world, because adults are believed to be unavailable, ineffective, unhelpful, unjust, uninvolved, and unconcerned. This type of parenting is a form of abandonment. This leads to kids that don’t go to teachers when someone is picking on them, and can result in them being bullied by others or in built up anger which, as we have seen, can result in violence as gruesome as school shootings.

Let’s Get Practical

Here are some very practical things that help kids learn to avoid and solve common conflicts:

If two people want to do the same thing (play with a toy, game, computer, etc.) they can use “rock, paper, scissors” to determine who goes first. Then …

Have several kitchen timers available throughout the house and let the kids use them to take turns. For example: a turn on the computer is 25 minutes. (By the way, we also have a dri-erase board next to the computer. Kids log their turns on the computer and after 3 (25 minute) turns, they have to read for 1 hour to earn more turns.)

For the game console, there is a sign-up sheet close by, where kids can sign up to be the next one to play.

We also have a sign posted in a conspicuous place in our house that clearly outlines the steps for preventing and stopping a fight:

How to Stop a Fight

1. If someone is doing something you don’t like, tell them to “stop” in a nice voice. Or, if the fight is about a toy or game, agree on a way to take turns. Set a timer and do ‘rock-paper-scissors’ to see who goes first.

2. If they don’t listen, tell them if they do it again you will have to get an adult.

3. If they still don’t listen, get an adult.

Remember:

No yelling, No hurting, No hurtful words.

We talk thought these steps on a regular basis with the kids. They seem so simple and yet they are so powerful. They also communicate that we are there to help them walk through difficult times and situations to give them wisdom and counsel when needed. When they do come to us, we affirm them, and try to help them find a peaceful solution to the problem.