If you want to teach a kid how to live well, showing them is infinitely more important than telling them. Talking, though, has its place.
Resolving conflict is an essential life skill for family, friendship, and work. It’s also a crucial protective factor for kids to make healthy, wise choices. Learning it will help them not only in their relationships and identity formation, but also in their academic and professional success. Besides modeling it in your own life, though, what can you do?
- Celebrate conflict resolution: A common phrase says, “What gets celebrated gets repeated.” If you notice a kid making steps to resolve a conflict they’re facing, do whatever you can to praise and affirm them. When you do, they and their friends will start noticing what’s important to adults and feel proud of themselves and empowered to keep going.
- Point out and challenge: It’s hard to be around an adolescent for any length of time without hearing about a conflict they face. You’ll often notice what they’re doing to avoid rather than resolve that conflict. Maybe they’re talking about someone in a negative way. Perhaps they talk about how the friendship is over. You have an opportunity to act like a mirror, point out the conflict they’re in, and challenge them to move through their hurt feelings to preserve their friendship. Let them know that if a friend is important, there are always ways to find forgiveness and understanding.
- Share case studies: Drawing upon stories from your own life or other kids you’ve been around, you can share the details of a real-life conflict and ask kids to give their advice on how they would resolve it. Don’t let avoidance, or becoming hateful or hurtful, be options. Rather, ask them if resolving the conflict was necessary and what steps they could take to get there. Explore with them different tactics they could try and the results of each of the possible scenarios.
- Play the mediator: when you notice a conflict, perhaps between siblings or students in your classroom, step in and help facilitate resolution. Best practices recommend spending a few minutes with each person before bringing them together. Let them express their hurt feelings with you, rather than the other person. Help them explore what’s underneath their feelings and examine ways they might have contributed to the conflict, either directly or indirectly. Then, bring them together, facilitate a way for both parties to share their experiences and feelings, and help them explore forgiveness, reconciliation, or a resolution.
Conflict resolution isn’t a set of skills someone can learn through a worksheet or a teaching video. It’s something you have to experience for yourself. It helps to see it in real-time as a neutral party. It helps to have someone guide you through the process, too.
The more a kid can learn how to resolve conflict, the better every aspect of their life will be and the more potential for them to thrive.