Three Tips for Effective Conflict Resolution
“Stop your children’s fighting in three easy steps!” “Turn your kids from enemies into best friends!”
We may see promises like this and throw our hands up in the air, convinced that they can never deliver. In truth, moving toward effective conflict resolution is a process, and one that even adults must continue developing. It takes practice, work, and learning from our mistakes. But the earlier we model healthy conflict resolution for our children, their siblings, and their peers, the more likely they are to carry these patterns into the future.
Recently, our counseling department shared a lesson with students in grades 5 through 8 and presented a Parent Forum on healthy conflict resolution. Highlighted topics included treating others with kindness, distinguishing the difference between normal conflict and bullying, and standing up to gossip and rumors. This post will focus on three specific tips for effective conflict resolution.
1. Model and encourage empathy.
Our natural tendency is to look at a situation from one perspective—our own. Helping children increase their empathy can take many forms. Some practical steps include encouraging gratitude for what we have, slowing down our busy pace of life to notice the needs of others around us, and enhancing listening skills. Model and practice how to listen to others and how to seek understanding of what the other person is saying. Consider how the other person is feeling; most likely he or she has a different perspective than you do in the conflict.
2. Use "I" Statements.
Nothing puts us more on the defensive than feeling accused. A common response when one feels wronged is to place blame on the other person and to sound off by saying exactly what was done wrong. However, learning to share how you felt because of another’s words or actions can soften the tone and open the door for more conversation. A basic use of an “I” statement could look like this:
I felt ______________ when you did ______________. Next time, please ________________.
This requires vulnerability on our part, as it can be hard to share how we feel when we don’t know how the other person will respond. But when practiced over time, addressing a problem this way can help build stronger relationships with others.
3. Seek peaceful compromise.
As children mature and move from self-focused to others-focused thinking, seeking compromise becomes easier. Young children will need more adult intervention to work through conflicts, but even they can practice simple compromises such as taking turns with a toy, setting a timer, or sharing. Older children can practice talking things through when there is a disagreement. Modeling humility and helping children take responsibility for their part of a conflict can be implemented from a young age as well. At school, we encourage students to involve an adult if the situation is serious, but to try to work things out between themselves first.
Conflict does not have to be dreaded; it can be good, depending on how it is dealt with. Healthy conflict and its resolution can be instruments of growth and change, especially when followers of Christ take to heart truth such as Colossians 4:6—“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” We are all works in progress, but by God’s grace we can encourage and build one another up as we model healthy interactions for our children and students.
About the Author
Ashley Plitt has called Northern Virginia home since 2008, when she moved here to teach English at TCS. One of her first memories of the area is merging across four lanes of traffic on I-495 and wondering what she’d gotten herself into, but she stayed and is thankful for that! She now works as a school counselor with students of all ages. Ashley enjoys deep conversations over tea or coffee, reading, and cheering on her hometown Pittsburgh Steelers.