Helping Your Children Deal with Conflict by Reena Rabovsky, Elementary School Psychologist

Reena Rabovsky, Elementary School Psychologist

From the Desk of Reena Rabovsky
Helping Your Children Deal with Conflict

As parents, it feels difficult to watch our children suffer through conflict with peers. We often wonder how best to handle these moments when we hear about our child’s fight with a friend, a bad experience on the bus, or when someone speaks unkindly to our child. Parents play a key role in preventing and responding to conflicts between children...so what can parents do?

The first step to determining the best intervention is to clearly define the problem. When describing what has happened, our kids often use the the big buzzword: bullying. The question is, what is bullying exactly? In 2014, the CDC and Department of Education defined bullying as having three core elements, 1) unwanted aggressive behavior, 2) with an observed or perceived imbalance of power, 3) consists of behavior that is repeated over time. There are several forms of bullying, both direct and indirect, that include physical, verbal, relational and cyberbullying. As parents, it is important for us to differentiate between bullying and other types of peer conflicts. For instance, rudeness is defined as someone inadvertently saying or doing something that hurts someone else. Meanness is defined as purposefully saying or doing something to hurt someone once (or maybe twice). You can read more about these differences in a Huffington Post article found here. Whichever kinds of conflicts our children are facing, helping to clearly define the issue can be a good way to start.

Here are some other suggestions  for helping your children manage conflicts:

  • Reinforce the idea that telling an adult about the problem and asking for help is a great start. Encourage your child  to share his or her feelings and experiences, as talking to an adult can help them feel less alone. Remind your child that letting you (or a teacher) know about a problem is not tattling, it is reporting. Tattling is when you are trying to get someone in trouble, and reporting is when you are trying to get someone out of trouble. Keeping the lines of communication open is the key to helping your children resolve conflict on any level.

  • Model respect for your children. Show your child that treating others with respect is an important way to get respect in return. Sometimes, during a conversation about conflict, we discover that our child might have made a mistake in the interaction as well. Encourage your child to apologize for his or her wrongdoing, and to take responsibility for his or her part in the conflict. At the same time, it is crucial to validate your child’s experience. Whether the conflict was rude, mean, or actual bullying behavior, it is important to let your child know that you understand and empathize with the challenge they may have faced.

  • Teach your child to be assertive. If someone is being unkind, remind your child that he or she can tell the perpetrator to stop in a clear, confident and calm voice. If speaking up is too hard, walk away and stay away, and then find an adult to help. Practice these assertive responses and role play with your child. This will empower your child to feel confident in their ability to manage conflict on their own in the future.

  • Encourage Upstander behavior. If your child sees someone else getting picked on, remind him or her to show their friends how much they care by standing up to the person who is being unkind. If this is too difficult, encourage your child to include a lonely friend, sit with someone who is by themselves at lunch or on the bus, or invite someone who has been picked on to do something together. Beware of labeling other children as “bullies” but rather focus on being an upstander, someone who stands up for what is right!  

  • Monitor your child’s online presence. Keep an eye out for cyberbullying and inappropriate content. Children do not always recognize that things said online are permanent and they may need reminders that tone cannot be detected in social media and texts.

  • Report incidents to school so that we can help! Research shows that when adults respond swiftly and consistently to unkind behaviors and bullying, it sends a message that this behavior is unacceptable and helps prevent future issues. Our goal at school is to partner with you, the parents, in educating our children in conflict resolution and bullying prevention.

Reena Rabovsky
Elementary School Psychologist

For more information about bullying statistics and facts visit this link from StopBullying.Gov,  a federal government website managed by the  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with an abundance of resources about this topic.