How can we help children solve their conflicts?
The usual response to conflicts is to stop the behavior i.e. the grabbing of a toy, the pushing or shoving or the shouting. Mainstream child-raising concentrates on behavior and believes that through inhibiting bad behavior and praising good behavior the outcome will be a moral human being with a sense of right and wrong. Well, actually the outcome is proved to be obedience, and that has little to do with moral – more on that next time. For generations now, children have been made objects of parent’s and society’s agenda.
And more to the point – do you remember how aggravating it was when your parents said “I don’t want to hear it! You’re both as bad as the other!” This kind of intervention in a conflict conveys to the children, you aren’t interested in what their feelings are and they are not worth your time or energy. Focusing on behavior instead of the underlying cause drives a wedge in the relationship to your child and impacts their self-esteem in a harmful way.
Un-raising differs from the antiauthoritarian approach, because we acknowledge the natural authority adults have – the point is we don’t misuse it to overpower the integrity of our children.
So when conflicts arise we offer our assistance. When children haven’t been raised to fear the adult’s interference, having to hide conflicts so that they aren’t taken-over and shut down, they actually welcome our advice.
I have found un-raised children of two and four years, pulling on a toy that they both want, to rejoice in my question “how can I help you?” or “do you two need help?” We mirror what we see without seeking to state facts (“do you both want the toy and aren’t sure how that could work?” “Are you frustrated, because he/she wants it as well?”) and we show understanding for their predicament without becoming the opposing, policing force. We acknowledge and respect their problem and simply offer our experience and assistance in finding a solution. When you stop being the policing-parent, you become a friendly ally.
Children use the tools we give them, for instance swapping toys, taking turns, engaging in the play of the other child by perhaps making a parking space for the car or pushing them on the swing before it’s time to switch. When we assist children we may act as a mediator, mirroring the wants and expectations of the children and accompany them with their emotions.
My elder son is imaginative in solving conflicts and usually offers solutions that make both parties happy. Sometimes solutions cannot be found and each of them/us needs time alone – this is facilitated and respected.
When my boys (four and ten years) become physical and don’t want my help, I am vigilant but restrained. I make sure they know I am there to help whenever they wish it, and they are ever respectful of the word “stop!” which is spoken when the play becomes too much for one of them/us. Sometimes they wish to solve their conflicting needs or wishes through rough play. More often than not the conflict turns into a game – rough play. We observe children solving their conflicts independently their own way and happily resuming play time and again. If we shut down their behavior, they wouldn’t come to this point and would stagnate in their aggression toward one another. Cases like this make it clear that children are able (and willing) to deal with their own conflicts.
Situations are unique, as are our children, so there can be no one method of dealing with conflict.
Children, both younger and elder, require assistance in specifying their emotions, sorting them and naming them. They don’t benefit by being forced into obedience and left alone with their emotions; they require empathy and connection to an attachment figure. They also seek ways in which to solve conflicts – and who better to look to, than their nearest and dearest?
It stands to say whoever can solve a conflict should, however it shouldn’t be a norm to take this learning experience away from children on account of our fear. If children are happy to delve into problem solving, trying out new ways, and no one is in danger, what justifies our interference?
Once children can count on your excellent problem solving skills, they will begin to autonomously ask “Mummy, can you help me?” when they realize they require guidance, and you will experience the trust that we so often talk about in the peaceful parenting community.
I invite you to take your liberty and join the revolution!