Just like intimate relationships, conflicts with children whether it is a parent or with another child conflict is a normal part of relating. How we interact and move through the conflicts is an opportunity for both parents and children to develop relating skills that build resilience, self-esteem and empathy.
Resolving conflicts with children in compassionate ways is one of the biggest challenges for parents. Old authoritarian ways, while they may seem to offer a quick end to fighting has its consequences. Imposing consequences on a child like time-outs, extra chores, taking things of theirs away, or withdrawal of love, all can cause a child to feel anxious, insecure, unloved and confused. This approach breaks down the parent-child bond with mistrust, resentment and can even lead to a sense of numbness and disconnect. Further punitive approaches do not teach a child to address the behaviour and the underlying needs, nor do they teach a child about conflict resolution.
Aware Parenting approaches challenging behaviours with connection, understanding, information and love. It is totally possible to resolve conflicts and set limits without imposing any consequences at all.
Some parenting approaches choose to ignore challenging behaviour and instead take a seemingly positive approach by only rewarding ‘good’ behaviours. While it’s not as harsh on the surface, rewarding children for being good can still have several drawbacks. They are a form imposed consequence, for example, you only get love, a treat, acknowledgement or acceptance if you behave the way I want you to. It is still an authoritarian paradigm.
It can be surprising to some parents to think of rewards in this way. Similar to punitive ways, reward systems for good behaviour does not directly address underlying needs or develop intrinsic motivations. Eventually, a child may feel angry or resentful about being controlled in this way.
To be clear, I am not talking about our natural enthusiasm and celebration of our child’s achievements or milestones. There is nothing more connecting than joining in their excitement or giving them a deeper understanding of how they affect us and others around them. There’s nothing wrong with taking an interest in your child’s world and mirroring their excitement.
If you want to approach conflicts with children without the use of punishments or rewards it helps to understand what is going on. Children tend to become uncooperative, whiny, do annoying things, be destructive when they have an unmet need, lacks an understanding or has some big emotions needing release.
When a conflict arises for your child, the first thing to consider is if they have any unmet needs. If there is, find out what happens when you simply fulfil that need. There may be no further need for support and all goes back to normal. It’s not always that simple though is it?
Sometimes there is a conflict of needs. If there is a conflict with your own needs it may be tempting to use an authoritarian approach and overpower the situation, if it seems impossible. Take a pause before you do though, and trust a process of connection.
The basics of conflict resolution based on connection can point to surprising solutions.
What are the basics?
- When I see, notice, (describe the behaviour that is the issue without blame or shame) happens
- I feel …. (frustrated, frightened, annoyed, worried)
- Because …. (unmet needs/impact on you)
After these basics, you can enter into either hearing their experience.
- How were you feeling when (describe the behaviour)
- Draw out needs – Is this because …
Now there is an understanding on both sides we can move into requests and negotiation
- I understand that you would like…., and I would like…..
- Do you have some ideas that would leave us both happy?
- Negotiate/ requests. How about ….? Would … work?
We can also reduce conflicts that arise for children by taking preventative measures. These suggestions will never eradicate all conflicts but it will help reduce them while nurturing a wonderful connection with your children.
- Fill children’s needs
- Change Environment
- Age appropriate language for explanations
- Provide preparation
- Teach skills
- Give choices
- Listen to children’s painful emotions
To be more present and able to move through conflicts with your children:
- Engage in regular self-care, meet your own needs.
- Learn more about childhood development to improve your understanding of their world.
- Explore your feelings as a child of a similar age and release any painful emotions that come up.
- Connect with like-minded parents regularly.
If you would like to gain some more insights download my guide on Resolving Relationship Conflicts.