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Conflict is good

By Tavish Becker

Siblings will clash. Siblings must clash. And we have to support our little ones through these trials. Conflict is important. It is character and relationship BUILDING. But it is painful to observe and can quickly escalate into violence. How do we guide our little ones through their conflicts, their screaming and bashing matches and maximise the potential benefit these episodes could have?

Take a step back. What would be the best outcome for a conflict between siblings? Peace and quiet you might say. But I think that we can help our kids achieve more than just sullen silence as the fight wanes out of them.  We can give our kids the opportunity to learn about themselves, about each other, about limits and boundaries, about empathy and co-operation and about being assertive without violence.

How to achieve this?

  1. Allow and accept the arguments.
  2. Sportscast the conflict. This means act as a commentator at a cricket or rugby match, an impartial observer. Reflect what you see. ‘Danny has the ball. Bertie wants the ball. Now Bertie has the ball. Danny wants the ball back. Danny is upset.’ This gives the children a sense of being heard and understood. It also gives them a chance to think about the other child’s perspective.
  3. Allow space to resolve the conflict themselves. Once you have sportscast the problem, be quiet. Wait. Sit back. And wait some more. Your most surly child might surprise you by handing back the desired toy. You won’t see the unexpected generosity of children unless you give them a chance to display it. Once the conflict is resolved, don’t make a big fuss. Sportscast the result. ‘Danny looks pleased to get the ball back.’ And move on. The children have learnt valuable lessons.
  4. One can also guide the child whose toy has been taken into their possible courses of action. You could offer a hug, acknowledge their feelings of upset and then suggest they ask for the toy back or go and find another toy together. You want the child to know he has been heard and you also want them to know that you will support them through asking for the toy to be returned.
  5. Should the conflict turn violent, with one child starting to lash out, calmly put yourself in between the children stating ‘I won’t let you hurt Bertie.’ Now the children know your limit and see you enforcing it. You have not resolved the conflict for them. You have not acted as a judge in the matter or labelled one child a bully and another a victim. If they are both pulling on an object to the extent that you think one could be hurt, calmly place your hand in between the children and steady the object explaining ‘This looks like someone could get hurt here, so I am holding this hoop stable for you.’ This gives them a chance to talk about who gets the object rather than fighting over it.

Children often act out when they are feeling disconnected, unbalanced and out of control. If you see the conflicts are escalating, your child is calling for you, his mom and dad, to reconnect with him. Take time out with your child. Sit and observe. Be there.

5 Reasons to Love Conflict

Some wonderful endorsements of sportcasting: