10 ways to resolve conflict with your children

Resolving conflict with children

Conflict is a fact of life. It occurs between parents and children, just like it occurs between adults. How you handle conflict with your children will determine the quality of your relationship with them.
If you view conflict as something that shouldn’t ever happen because it harms relationships, you may try to avoid it and hope the problem will go away. Unfortunately, you will soon discover that it doesn’t disappear all by itself.

However, if you see conflict as a fact of life and an opportunity to strengthen relationships, you have a way of resolving it by turning it into something creative and positive.

Try these simple and straightforward strategies:

1. Agree on a mutually acceptable time and place to discuss the conflict. (Make sure you show up on time.)


2. State the problem as you see it, and list your concerns.

  • Make “I” statements, such as “I think that behavior was out of line.”
  • Avoid judgments, accusations, and absolute statements such as “always” or “never.”

3. Let the child/teen have his or her say.

  • Do not interrupt, override or contradict while your child is talking. This is a discussion, and that means both sides get to give their points of view and to state their feelings.
  • Do not allow name-calling, put-downs, threats, obscenities, yelling, or intimidating behavior.

4. Listen and ask questions.

  • Ask fact-based questions to make sure you understand the situation: Who? What? Where? When? How?
  • Ask exploratory questions: What if? What are you saying? Is this the only solution to our problem? What if we did such and such? Are there other alternatives to this situation?
  • Avoid accusatory “why” questions: Why do you act like that? Why do you jump to conclusions?
  • Acknowledge the child’s feelings and perceptions, even if you don’t agree with him at times. Let them express themselves as freely and openly as possible. Then, use your own words to restate what you think the child means and wants. “Let me see if I understand what you’re saying…”

5. Stick to one conflict at a time.

  • Do not change the subject or allow it to be changed.
  • Try saying, “I understand your concern, but I’d like to finish what we’re talking about before we discuss this new issue.”

6. Seek common ground. Brainstorm answers to the conflicts that allow everyone to own at least part of the solution. There are always a number of ways to deal with a situation, and a little thought and conversation can often produce a solution that is satisfactory to both sides.

  • “What do we agree on so far?”
  • “What concerns do we share about how to resolve this?”
  • “Okay, we agree that curfew on Friday night will be 11 o’clock, instead of 10 like it is on school nights.”

7. Request behavioral changes only.

  • Don’t ask kids to change their attitudes.
  • Don’t ask them to “feel” differently about something.
  • If you want them to stop doing something, suggest an alternative action.

8. Agree to the best way to resolve the conflict and to a timetable for implementing it. Who will do what, and when? Be specific about this and stick with the timeline for change.


9. Put it in writing.


10. If the discussion breaks down, reschedule another time to meet. Consider bringing in a third party. Introducing another person, especially if he or she is neutral, often helps break a stalemate.

  • The first rule of parenting is to always keep your promises. In bringing a child into the world, you have implicitly promised to love and care for him or her. It is your obligation as a parent. To do less for your child would make you less than human.
  • Keeping your word to your child is a big way in which you show your love. If you say you will be at a soccer game to watch your child play, you must show up and be on time. Your child must always feel confident that, if you say you will do something, you will not choose to do anything else.
  • In the same way, if you say skipping school will get your child grounded for a month, he must be absolutely certain that you will enforce that rule. That kind of certainty provides security for a child. Your daughter must know from experience that you mean what you say. Tell her that she may go to the mall only after her room is picked up. If she fiddles around until her ride comes, she may not leave until her room is picked up. Do not listen to arguments. Enforce the rules with consistency, and do not allow yourself to be manipulated.

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