In General Knowledge for the Family

Teaching Children to Reach Conflict Resolution

Conflict is a “… state of disagreement or disharmony between persons or ideas….”[1] Conflict is as inevitable as breathing. Without conflict, you probably are not living life to its fullest. The problem is that many of us view conflict always in negative terms. Therefore, we avoid it. Worse yet, we give our children the impression that conflict is always bad, and we fail to give them models for handling it appropriately. In this guide we attempt at teaching children to reach conflict resolution! With the right skills using the correct conflict management styles, people resolve conflicts in ways that lead to adaptation and growth. To begin to understand how to resolve conflict positively, we will start with conflict management styles.

Conflict Management Styles

Conflict management styles are the same as strategies. It is proper to use any one of these as a strategy depending upon the situation. However, some are problematic if they are a person’s only style. They go by different names, but in general experts describe them in terms of win and lose.[2]

  • I win/You lose
  • I lose/You win
  • No winner/No loser
  • I bend/You bend
  • I win/You win

The I win/You lose strategy is appropriate when a quick decision is needed; when you are certain you are right, or when you must stand up for your rights. However as a general style, it is inappropriate. A person who constantly uses this model may become a bully. Even if the person does not go to that extreme, they will discover that no one likes a know-it-all. Losers may retaliate.

The I lose/You win strategy is the same as accommodating. It is appropriate to use if the outcome does not matter to you or if your primary interest is preserving the relationship. However, constantly using this strategy can make one a target in an abusive relationship. Bullies may assume that this is a person whom they can easily victimize. Constantly being the loser results in pain and resentment. In the workplace, a person using this strategy may lose authority and influence.

The no winner/no loser strategy is synonymous with avoiding conflict. It is appropriate if there is a need to cool off, to get out of a dangerous situation, or if it is not the right moment to deal with the conflict. However by delaying the matter, one may lose the right to give input into a decision, or the problem can grow beyond anyone’s control. As a style, it leads to the same problems as the I lose/You win strategy.

The I bend/You bend strategy is the same as compromising. In this strategy, each side gives up some of its demands in order to gain others. Each side loses and wins. It is appropriate if the goals are moderate or if people of equal status with equal demands are in conflict. The risk is one or both sides resenting what they have had to give up.

The I win/You win strategy is when both sides achieve their goals. This strategy is called “collaborating.” It works best when both sides have a high level of trust in each other and when they are willing to share responsibility for the outcome. It is also best if either side must work through ill feelings toward the other. This strategy is the most difficult. It takes much time and much work.

It is worthwhile to self-examine and to ask, is one of these strategies the style that you usually use in resolving conflict? Are you modeling only one strategy for your children? If you predominantly use one, you are likely using the wrong strategy in the wrong situation much of the time.

Let’s look at how conflict happens and is resolved in the workplace and home. Children learn from their parents’ model; so, the workplace and home are places to teach children how to resolve conflict.

Resolving Conflict in the Workplace[3]

Common types of conflict in the workplace are:

  • Structural conflicts
  • Resource conflicts
  • Data conflicts
  • Relational conflicts

Structural conflicts regard disagreements over authority, responsibilities, and organization. For example, disagreement may occur over who has the right to make decisions. Many of these conflicts are avoidable. They can be managed and resolved through clearly stated workplace policies. Spouses often have conflict over responsibility and organization in the family. Just like in the workplace, clear communication and agreement about expectations are vital.

Another type of structural conflict is interdependency conflict, when one employee’s performance or work depends upon that of others. Such structures require effective teaming approaches and effective accountability structures. Limited budgets lead to resource conflicts both at work and in the family. Agreement has to be reached on what takes priority.

If information is not communicated well, data conflicts will happen. In the home, if one spouse handles the money, he or she has the responsibility to let the other know what the situation is. The same goes for the family calendar and weekly schedule.

Relational conflicts usually take the form of personality clashes, but often the underlying reason for the conflict lies in the structural, resource, or data areas. Take time to talk through the “why” behind the conflict in order to keep the conflict as impersonal as possible. In other words, do not resort to personal attack when personality is not the real issue. Try to give your children a good model for resolving conflict.

Conflict at School

The types of conflict that children face are:

  • Intrapersonal—a conflict internal to the child
  • Interpersonal—a conflict between two or more people
  • Intergroup—a conflict between different groups of children such as rival schools, gangs, or cliques
  • Societal—a conflict between children of different races or genders[4]

The attitudes and strategies children see in their parents during conflict shape how the children respond to conflict in their own world. If a parent wants to help a child through conflict, the parent needs to know its type. A child’s rebellion or lashing out at others may be the result of intrapersonal conflict. If the conflict does involve others, knowing how many people are involved will help the parent to know what resources the child needs for resolution.

The child needs to be taught the same skills that all people need for resolving conflict. Children and teens can be taught very simple techniques for resolving conflict.[5] These include:

  • Rock, paper, and scissors—Not every conflict requires a diplomatic summit to resolve. When the result is not as important, children can be taught to use a simple, fair game to resolve the matter such as rock, paper, and scissors or flipping a coin.
  • I-messages—Teach children not to accuse or insult the other but to express their feelings with I-feel-when statements such as, “I feel sad when you throw my toys.”
  • Peace path—Teach children steps to reach a resolution. The path should include discussion around statements such as “I feel…when…” and “I need…” There should also be questions: What happened? How would you feel? Teach children how to brainstorm solutions.
  • Conflict managers—Many schools have begun to train students to arbitrate conflict between other students. If your child’s school has such a program, encourage him or her to use it. If your child’s school does not have such a program, encourage the school’s administration to consider starting one. You can find more information in the book, School Violence and Conflict Resolution, and from the CRU Institute.

Conclusion

Conflict is an inevitable part of life. Children who are taught how to resolve conflict are less likely to resort to bullying and also less likely to be victims of bullies. Parents and educators can help children by modeling different strategies for resolving conflict. They should teach children the skills they need to resolve conflict. Schools should develop programs through which students can arbitrate conflicts.

Bibliography and Other Resources

Sande, Ken. The Peacemaker. 3rd edition. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2004.

Sande, Ken, and Kevin Johnson. Resolving Everyday Conflict. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2011.

Smith, Marilyn E., Matthew Monteverde, Henrietta M. Lily, and & 0 more. School Violence and Conflict Resolution. New York: Rosen Pub Group, 2012.

Stone, Douglas, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen, Roger Fisher, and & 1 more. Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. Revised edition. New York: Penguin Books, 2010.

“Conflict in the Workplace.” Conflict Resolution Strategies, 2012. Online: http://conflictresolution-strategies.com/conflict-in-the-workplace/.

“Conflict Management Strategy and Styles.” Southern Nazarene University. Online: http://home.snu.edu/~hculbert/conflict.htm.

“Conflict Management: Style and Strategy.” Wright State University. Online: http://www.wright.edu/~scott.williams/LeaderLetter/conflict.htm.

“Conflict Resolution Skills: Turning Conflicts into Opportunities.” Help Guide. Cited 12 June 2014. Online: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/eq8_conflict_resolution.htm.

“Four Conflict Resolution Techniques for School Children.” Playworks. Cited 18 June 2014. Online: http://www.playworks.org/blog/four-conflict-resolution-techniques-school-children.

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