Thursday, April 14, 2011

How to Meditate Kids' Conflicts

If conflict among your kids the bane of your existence, you're not alone. As the mom of two boys, my sons and I were not strangers to conflict. Bickering, fighting, put-downs, and the like can drain time, energy, and peace from any parent's life. In fact many conflict among kids as one of the top stresses families face. 

If you've already tried intervening, ignoring, reasoning, and threatening to no avail, don't despair because help is at hand.   What follows are five practical but highly effective steps to help you help your kids work out the conflicts that are driving you nuts. Best to use with kids 5 and up, but modifiable for younger kids.

First, an important caveat.  Try this process in your own life first.  Then introduce it to your kids at a neutral time.  Expect that your kids might be resistant at first. This is normal, so don't give up.  The process below helped restore the peace when my boys were younger, and now that they're grown they still use it (even though they also resisted it initially).  It's like learning how to ride a bike -- over time, it gets easier, and before long, it feels perfectly normal.


 1.  Have them cool off first. The number one mistake adults make is trying to get kids to talk out the conflict while they're still mad.  You've probably noticed that this doesn't work. Think about yourself in the throes of anger or hurt - how impossible it feels to talk things out right away. Rational solutions require clear minds.

 Give your kids time to calm down before asking them to talk.  Separately, have them take some time out, get a drink of water, or do something physical to let of steam. When tempers are calmer and tears are dried, sit down with them and go on to step #2.

2.  Set the tone for listening.  Tell your kids they're both going to have a chance to say what's bothering them, but they're going to need to listen respectfully to each other without interrupting. Then ask each child to state what's bothering them, starting from "I", not "you."  Example: "I'm mad ‘cause you grabbed the remote control without asking," This is a lot less inflammatory than, "You're so mean!"  (By the way, be sure to teach them how to start from "I", not "you" ahead of time.)

3.  Paraphrase what each child said.  Hearing you paraphrase what was said teaches them how to do the same.  As your kids get used to hearing words paraphrased, start asking them to "say back" the main idea of what each other said.  Let them know that "saying  back" doesn't indicate agreement, but shows respect, builds understanding, and makes it easier to work out problems.

 4. Now ask this question:  How can the two of you work out this conflict?  Then wait.  Don't jump in with a solution.  If they're over five, they're perfectly capable of coming up with their own solutions.  For younger kids, offer several suggestions for them to choose from.  For kids over five, give them time.  Walk away if you have to, and let them know you have faith in their ability to work out the problem in a fair and respectful way.

 5.  Have them tell you the solution they came up with.  If it's is an ongoing conflict, write down the solution, have them sign it, and hang it up.  Affirm them for working out the problem, and let them know how proud you are that they used their creativity and energy to make things better.

Most importantly, let your kids see you working out conflicts in a similar manner. Modeling is your most powerful teaching tool.  Also, let your kids know that you expect them work out problems in a fair way.  By teaching them how, showing them through your example, then guiding them through the process when problems arise, you'll be preparing them to do this independently. You'll also be providing a tool they'll be able to use for the rest of their lives.

Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict. - Dorothy Thompson

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