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September 22nd, 2021

Fighting Fair: Handling Kids and Conflict With Compassion

Let’s face it, it’s easy to get a little childish when having an argument. Even easier when that argument is over something truly childish. But what happens when your opponent is truly…a child? If it feels like you and your kids are constantly clashing, it’s not necessarily a bad sign. It shows that you have established that your home is a place where everyone’s opinion is valid, that your child is safe disagreeing with you, and that your child isn’t afraid to stand up for themselves.

They might be picking things to stand up against that don’t make a whole lot of sense to you, like whether or not freezer waffles are a balanced dinner or if literally, every tooth needs to be flossed, but these are important practice arguments for them to have. Is it exhausting? Maybe a little. Sometimes a lot. But that’s the cost of raising brave, independent thinkers.

Name the Enemy

It’s important to remind yourself and to teach your child that no matter what you’re fighting about, you’re not fighting each other. This isn’t about you versus them, but the two of you versus the problem at hand. You are, in fact, a team. You aren’t battling one another, but coming up with a cohesive battle plan, which might require a bit of negotiation from you both to successfully win the war on homework, whether to wear a jacket, and how much screen time is a good idea.

Is it Disrespect or Insecurity?

Adults recognize it pretty well when observing other adults, and even teenagers, that often conflict is the product of an insecurity. When someone feels slighted, unheard, or unseen, it can cause them to have big, ugly, confusing feelings. When small children are feeling this way for the first time, they might lash out in anger, become aggressive or destructive, or start acting “naughty” in a bid for your attention. They don’t know that’s why they’re doing it, so asking them won’t help. Yelling, isolating them, or reacting with the same level of disrespect is unlikely to get the message across.

When dealing with an angry or emotional child, it can help to think of them as a coworker. Someone you have to get past this conflict with to have a successful day. Consider how you would handle the emotions of a teammate who was feeling ignored, overlooked, or who had been treated unfairly.

Showing your child respect while holding your boundaries teaches them that even in hard moments, how you treat everyone matters. Put yourself on their level by sitting, kneeling, or inviting them to sit beside you. Use their name and look them in the eye, and repeat to them their perspective. Don’t exaggerate it to make your point, but truly repeat what they are asking or asserting so they know that you hear and understand their perspective.

What Else Could it Be?

It’s not a fair fight if one of you is acting out because of something other than the conversation at hand. Before engaging with the argument, be sure that you and your child aren’t hungry, overtired, or dehydrated.

If your child seems to fly off the handle at seemingly small inconveniences — like the seam in their sock, a sound their sibling is making, or the temperature in the room — it might be a good idea to have them evaluated for sensory processing issues. To you, it’s a little warm. To a child with sensory processing issues, every pore in their body is screaming for air as the fabric in their shirt attacks them with needles. It’s truly miserable, and having just one person hear them out can keep them from withdrawing.

If your child is struggling with anxiety, a day of doing their best might mean they are just out of patience by the time they get home. You can check out our recent Blog about ways to help your child cope with some of the impact anxiety can have on their day.

Regulate Your Energy

Pouting isn’t going to help either of you right now!

The worst thing, and the most human thing, a person can do during an emotional exchange is to match the energy of someone who is already flailing. When your child is angry, sad, frustrated, or feeling insecure, it can manifest in yelling or disrespectful words or tones. It is pretty hardwired in us to react to disrespect and elevated tones in kind, but yelling at your child for yelling sends a number of wrong messages, the most damaging being that you aren’t a safe space for them to have big emotions.

Be sure that you are listening as their parent, the person who loves them the most in the world, rather than the person they are complaining about. Your child comes to you because they feel safe, and they know you care enough to help them navigate the confusion. Maintain a safe place by listening fully, not interjecting, and finding out what is at the root of your child’s current insecurity.

Know When to Walk Away

It’s common for parents to send their child to their room during an escalation. While some get the impression that the purpose of “go to your room” is isolation or punishment, the intention is to give them space to cool down. Demonstrating this behavior can give your child one more tool when they know they’re getting wrapped around the axle. If you feel yourself starting to get emotional, or if you suspect you’re going to lose your cool, verbally express this and step away. “I’m starting to get frustrated myself, just like you. I think it’s a good idea for us to take a few minutes and come back to this. I’m going to make some tea. Would you like some?”

But then, actually walk away. Don’t continue the conversation while you tidy up, start the kettle, or rearrange papers, and don’t just put it on the permanent back burner. Set a timer and return to the conversation. We all need a chance to reset from time to time.

Advertise a Better Outcome

A common marketing tactic is to raise the volume on an exciting sell and to lower it on a compassionate one. That’s why your commercial for the latest foam rocket launcher is at 100% volume, and the ad for the tea you plan to drink after having that rocket launched directly into your face is at a near whisper. Solutions are often softly spoken. Use this approach when you find that your child only hears your voice and not your words. Turn the volume down, step back, and gently offer a compassionate shoulder, ear, and solution to your child’s elevated state. Knowing how fast their energy became infectious, remember that yours is as well. You have control over what you’re spreading, and this is an opportunity to establish yourself as understanding, safe, and wise in the face of chaos. Even if you don’t always feel it, it’s who you are to them.

End on a High Note

Be sure that your argument ends with as much reassurance as you can squeeze into their little bodies that you love them, are proud of them, and that having a disagreement doesn’t change how glad you are that they are yours. Our favorite ice sled driver and reindeer whisperer said it best when he said, “My love isn’t fragile.” As much as we all swooned at the thought, it’s the exact sentiment our kids want from us.

Take Care of Number One

At the end of the day, parents can feel completely spent. It’s often all we can do to push start on the dishwasher and throw ourselves into bed – but ensuring that we are taking excellent care of ourselves is the best way to avoid unnecessary drama with our mini-mes. When we are exhausted and uncared for, our ability to self-regulate goes completely out the window. When we feel taken care of, are being heard in our own lives, and are prioritizing our own physical and mental health, we have significantly more capacity to successfully parent the next generation, and to help them avoid reactive or aggressive responses to conflict.

We would love to share your tips for patiently and effectively untangling sticky disagreements with your sweethearts. So drop us a comment, or email us at Hello@WonderBunch.Com so we can share your wisdom, and incorporate your methods into our own once-in-a-lifetime relationship with our little ones!