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“But he started it!” – Helping Children Resolve Disputes

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“But he started it!” – Helping Children Resolve Disputes

Postby Georg Stratemeyer on Mon Aug 29, 2016 9:27 am

What do you do if there is a fight on the playground? As a father and grandfather I have witnessed my share of disagreements; and as a mediator and restorative justice counsellor, I ought to have some tools in my toolbox to manage such a situation.

Here are my two parenting lessons from a long career of working with conflicts;
Conflict is normal. Fighting, arguing, disagreeing are all healthy and normal ways to expand boundaries, grow, express oneself and learn about relationships. Instead of preventing conflict from occurring, celebrate the fact that your child is developing confidence even when the moment chosen by your child is not the best one.
How conflict is resolved teaches important lessons about interacting with others. If the resolution of the conflict is about winning and losing, then a) conflict can become a tool to get something and b) to avoid conflict is a way of avoiding losing something. From a relationship point of view, learning these lessons early as a child influences future relationships in a negative way. A different lesson that we can teach as parents is how to resolve conflict in a way that repairs relationships, teaches empathy and maintains dignity.

How do you teach conflict resolution skills to children? While in practice things seldom evolve in a discreet, step-by-step way there are three distinct phases. One is establishing an account of what happened. Another is exploring the impact of the disagreement on the other child (or you). The final step is a discussion of what repair to the relationship can look like.
Establishing an account of what happened is simply about creating a timeline of the events. The purpose is to build a joint story, one that everyone can agree with. It is important to avoid establishing the ‘truth’ to assign blame. By using questions like “what happened next?” and “what did you do then?”, and by summarising and combining everyone’s contribution to the story, you are helping your child to retell the events as concretely as possible as an observer, not as a participant. The observer perspective helps your child to gain some distance from the situation and become more objective about their own role.
When exploring the impact of the events the goal is to teach compassion and empathy. These skills are not easily learned and require practice. The second function of this stage is to help your child acknowledge and process their own feelings. Questions like “how did that make you feel?” and “how do you think this made Susan feel?” enrich your child’s emotional intelligence and establish a connection between actions and emotions.
The final step, exploring what a repair to the relationship can look like, is about connecting in a normal, healthy way. Questions like “what would make you feel better?”, “how would you want to be treated?” and “what would be helpful to Bob?” encourage your child to think about the future.

Like most things in life, to make a new skill part of your skill set takes time and practice. Be patient with yourself and your child. Every child and every situation is different, requiring you to adjust how you apply each step. The best advice is to practice with good intentions, positive results will follow.

Tips & How To’s
Establishing a joint story sample questions
What happened then?
What did you do next?
How did you react?
Summarise the answers in a story that follows a timeline and incorporates everyone’s responses, e.g. “If I understood this correctly, Chris was playing with the toy when you came into the room, then ...”

Exploring the impact sample questions
How did that make you feel?
How do you feel now?
How do you think this made Chris feel?

Repairing the relationship sample questions
What would make you feel better?
What do you think would make Chris feel better?
How can we fix this?
What should we do differently next time?

Georg Stratemeyer is a Family Mediator. He obtained a Master’s Degree in Conflict Analysis and Management and has worked with conflict for more than 20 years as a youth counsellor, facilitator and mediator. He can be reached at
Georg Stratemeyer
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Re: “But he started it!” – Helping Children Resolve Disputes

Postby Kelly.campbell on Tue Jun 20, 2017 1:23 am

Thanks for the post. I will try connect some people with him.
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Location: Chicago


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