Teaching Kids Conflict Resolution

July 17, 2012 at 9:33 am  •  Posted in Articles by Author, Healthy Parenting, Youth Development by

conflict between two young people in the park

By Bette J. Freedson, LCSW, LICSW


Conflict is normal, and kids can be taught how to handle it effectively.  Key ideas to teach kids are that conflict is normal and handling it does not mean always getting your way. Teach kids what compromise means, and use this three-pronged approach to teach them how to resolve conflict appropriately.

Familiarize Yourself with These Five Basic Strategies of Conflict Resolution
  • Stick with facts
  • Use “I” messages
  • Listen with empathy
  • Brainstorm choices
  • Separate problems versus people
  • Focus on the present
Teach and Train Children How to Use These Strategies at Their Age Level

Young kids are concrete. Older kids can understand more abstract concepts. Depending on the ages of the children you are teaching you can make these strategies nuanced or matter-of-fact. Encourage kids to stick with facts by teaching them to focus on the problem to be solved without bringing in past things that have happened, or referring to other friends by saying things like, “Bobby says I’m right!!” Or “You’re wrong! Even Susie says so!”

Focusing on facts and using “I” messages lead to a focus on the present.

Train kids to refrain from saying things like “But, Once, YOU did____________.” Or “You always act like a jerk!” Rather teach them to say things like, “I think________is a good idea. What do you think?”

Kids, especially older kids, can be taught the concept of empathy. Suggest they put themselves in the other person’s position and then imagine how things would seem from the other person’s point of view. To teach empathy parents can read and discuss, (or make up) stories, discuss movies or TV shows with the kids, and/or talk about life examples. Little kids can play out scenarios with their stuffed animals.

When empathetic listening is used, kids will be learning how to stay with the facts, and the focus will naturally be on problems not on people, which is a key concept in resolving conflict. To help them learn this, you can teach the kids to discuss choices without saying things like, “That’s lame!” or “That’s a stupid thing to do!” Or “You’re lame!”

It is recommended that adults write down the choices when resolving conflict.

While that can be useful with older kids, it may be less effective with little ones. However, if children are having a hard time keeping track of the choices, as littler ones might, an adult could scribe for them, and review the choices with them.

To teach and train children about conflict resolution, it is necessary to be involved in a good deal of their interpersonal doings. When as a parent you know what is going on with the your child, you can be proactive in directing and redirecting behavior based on the above strategies, and available to discuss the conflict resolution skill involved.

Model These Strategies by Using Them in Your Own Affairs.

Your kids will watch what you do. The more you use conflict resolution strategies yourself, particularly when it arises with the kids and you, the more likely your kids will be to be able to use them.

NOTE:  Adults are advised to call for a mediator or agree to disagree if the conflict can’t be resolved. The equivalent for kids is for them to ask a safe adult for help, or when appropriate, agreeing to disagree under the supervision and direction of an adult.