Just saying the word makes some people break out in a sweat, while others want to run for the hills. Surprisingly, some people enjoy engaging in conflict, but most people prefer to avoid it at all costs. While many think that conflict is bad, it's actually neither good nor bad; it's what you do with it that can create either a negative or positive experience. The reality is, conflict is part of life. The good news is, engaging conflict properly can lead to some really powerful outcomes.
Life can be stressful for sure. We often face complicated situations that require navigating differences of opinion, problem-solving and, sometimes, agreeing to disagree. One of the greatest things parents can teach their children is the art of managing and/or resolving conflict at home, at school, in the community or on the job.
If you are a parent, consider how you currently handle conflict. You've probably heard that it's always best if your kids don't witness an argument, but taking your disagreements behind closed doors all the time isn't necessarily helpful. It's a learning experience when young people see their parents disagree, work it through and make up. That's the first step in helping children prepare for dealing with conflict in their own life, especially in those moments when you aren't around.
It is also helpful if you don't step in every time your child disagrees with someone. Instead, ask your child about the issue at hand so they learn to identify what they are irritated or angry about. Then ask what they think their next best step might be. This will help them learn how to think critically and brainstorm potential next steps. It's often tempting to just point things out to them, especially if you are in a hurry, but it's far more helpful in the long run to teach them how to do this for themselves.
Ask your child about their role in the conflict. It's easy to assume it is totally the other person's fault, when both parties may have contributed to the situation at hand. Helping your young person understand how they may have contributed to the issue could give them some insight into their own behavior and how they might want to handle things differently in the future.
Before deciding what happens next, it is wise to address the feelings connected to the offense. Stuffing those feelings is not helpful, but neither is physically attacking someone or doing something else to get back at them. Teaching children how to constructively handle their emotions will serve them well for the rest of their lives. Sometimes the best lesson is experiencing how it feels to be treated a certain way. As a result, they will know how not to treat people in the future.
Finally, it's time for your young person to decide their best next move and take action. They might want to rehearse a conversation with you before facing the other party. Writing out their plan might be beneficial. If you're hoping for a constructive outcome, perhaps both parties could respectfully share their perspective of the situation. Even if nothing gets resolved at this point, they are making progress.
Throughout this process, your child learns how to handle conflict themselves, which is a major confidence builder. They also will learn how to slow down long enough to identify their feelings, brainstorm the possibilities when it comes to managing or resolving the conflict and come up with a constructive way to move forward. These tools can't be purchased at the hardware store, but they are certainly valuable ones to have in their toolbox.
Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.