How Parents Can Model Healthy Conflict Resolution for Children

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read" by Philippa Perry. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How well do you handle disagreements with others? What are your children learning from you when it comes to conflict resolution?

Disagreements are unavoidable in life. What matters is how we handle them when they arise. Conflict resolution is a valuable life skill, and kids need to learn early on how to settle disputes with others in a way that’s a relational win for everyone involved.

Continue reading to learn how to model healthy conflict resolution for children.

Healthy Conflict Resolution for Children

Just as it’s important to teach your child to interact with themselves in a healthy way, Perry argues that it’s important to teach them how to treat others, especially during conflicts. It’s inevitable that there will sometimes be conflicts in a household, whether between two parents, between a parent and a child, or between two other people. Having conflicts isn’t inherently a problem—it’s the way you approach these disputes that matters. Perry offers advice on how you, as a parent, can model healthy conflict resolution for children who are looking to you for cues.

Conflict resolution has a large effect on your child’s feelings of security and safety. If conflicts are consistently handled in nonconstructive, dysfunctional ways, a child may feel emotionally insecure in their home space—unable to relax because they never know when the next conflict will happen. As they’re always on alert, they may find it hard to be open and curious when interacting with the rest of the world.  

How Handling Conflict Predictably Helps Children

Resolving conflict predictably makes a child feel emotionally and physically safe, according to Nathaniel Branden in The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. The rules don’t constantly change, and the parents act relatively stably. (In the context of conflict resolution, this might mean consistently using the same methods for handling disagreements and not reacting volatilely.)

Growing up in a predictable environment supports the development of self-efficacy: If children can accurately predict what will happen in their home, they learn that their mind is useful and trustworthy. When they trust their mind, they grow confident in their judgment, and they can approach new people and new things with curiosity instead of fear.

To model healthy conflict resolution for children—whether you’re in a disagreement with them or with someone else—Perry suggests paying attention to your language. 

Putting It Into Practice: Avoid Accusatory Statements

According to Perry, when bringing up an issue, it’s best to avoid accusatory statements about what the other person did wrong. Using accusatory language can make them feel as if you’re creating a narrative and you’re unwilling to hear their point of view.

Instead, use first-person pronouns and focus on how the situation makes you feel. For example, instead of saying, “You never help with the laundry, and that’s why the house is a mess,” say, “I’d appreciate it if you helped more with the laundry because it’s hard for me to keep everything tidy myself.”

Further Benefits of “I Statements” and Advice for Conflict Resolution

Non-accusatory “I statements” have additional benefits beyond showing that you’re open to other points of view. First, these statements help you assert your needs without making the other person feel blamed or defensive. They also show that you’re in control of your emotions. Additionally, they’re solutions-focused: Instead of sending the message that there’s something wrong with the other person and they need to fix it, you’re sending the message that you have a problem you’d like to find a solution for together.

Finally, “I statements” can help move a conflict along by prompting reciprocity. We have a psychological tendency to reciprocate what someone gives us, including communication. This means that if you speak in a non-confrontational, feelings-focused manner, the other person will likely mirror your behavior.

Additionally, when working through a conflict in front of your kids, ensure that you resolve the conflict in front of them too. If the resolution happens where they can’t see it, they won’t get the full benefit of seeing you work things out, and they won’t be able to learn from it. Likewise, they won’t get any closure on the disagreement, so they might worry that it’s still happening.
How Parents Can Model Healthy Conflict Resolution for Children

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  • The tools you need to cultivate a healthy relationship with your child
  • How to make sure your child is an emotionally secure individual
  • Why the way you speak about yourself has a big impact on your child

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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