Teaching Kids to Counter Conflict with Compassion
Meeting each child's needs and instilling good conflict resolution skills are critical parts of the hugely challenging job of parenting.
Before it gets to that point, however, there are steps children can take to ensure a fair and peaceful resolution to conflict. According to teaching guides offered by GoodCharacter.com, a website owned by Live Wire Media, kids should first get their own tempers under control. Then they should try to engage the other child or children in a conversation to identify the problem and give each person a chance to voice thoughts and feelings.
Next, both sides should try to come up with a solution. Parents should explain these steps to their children before conflicts happen, according to the teaching guide. When conflicts do occur, parents should call a cooling-off period first to help calm emotions and explain to the children that it is better to discover the root causes of conflict than assign blame.
Within certain boundaries, kids should be allowed to work out their own conflicts, according to Brott. “Kids will fight more in the presence of adults,” he says, “because they know that adults will jump in and break it up.”
He suggests that adults set some ground rules for dealing with a conflict and then step out of the way and allow kids to work things out. “That’s until someone gets punched,” he adds. “Then [adults] have to step in. It’s important to let kids learn to work things out for themselves. They’re going to have to do that in life.”
Brott also suggests that parents sometimes allow their children to witness their own disagreements. “It’s important for parents to fight in front of their kids, if it’s a minor dispute,” he says. “A lot of parents don’t want to do that, but it helps kids to see how people can work out disagreements. It gives them confidence that they too can work things out (with other children) and still remain friends.”
The violence so prevalent in today’s media has a definite impact on the level of conflict among children, according to Kashtan. Indeed, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) confirms a link between exposure to violent television and movies, and aggression (both physical and verbal) by some children, citing over 1,000 scientific studies that support this conclusion. By age 18, says the AAP in a December 2004 policy statement, the average American child will have viewed about 200,000 acts of violence on television alone.
And the media often fail to show the consequences of violence, according to the AAP. As a result, children learn that there are few, if any, repercussions for committing violent acts. A study by the Television Violence Monitoring Project, which monitored over 3,000 hours of television, found that 61 percent of television programs contained some violence, and only four percent of television programs with violent content featured an “antiviolence” theme. It also noted that nearly 75 percent of violent scenes on television featured no immediate punishment for or condemnation of violence, and 40 percent of programs featured “bad” characters who were never or rarely punished for their aggressive actions. The AAP recommends limiting the amount of television children watch to one to two hours a day, and restricting exposure to violence in television and other media. It also suggests teaching children alternatives to violence.
Kashtan takes issue not only with the violence but with the divisiveness of the media’s message. “What a child sees in the media is rife with the idea that it’s right versus wrong, good versus bad,” she says. “It doesn’t help a child understand the nature of what it takes to make peace. We look for what’s right and what’s wrong, and we forget to look for human needs.”
Meeting each child’s needs and instilling good conflict resolution skills are critical parts of the hugely challenging job of parenting. Experts emphasize that by setting a good example in dealing with conflict themselves, by limiting exposure to violence, and by teaching children to look beyond their own needs, both mothers and fathers can equip their offspring with the tools they need to peacefully counter conflict wherever it arises.
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