Watching your child experience conflict is hard for any parent. However, learning how to navigate conflict with others is normal, healthy, and necessary. Conflict resolution is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced through experience, just like anything else! As parents, hearing your child share a negative sounding story about their day can flood you with strong emotions. However, it is important to remember that our own reactions will impact our child’s ability to process and handle these situations in a healthy way.
The number one thing to keep in mind when you hear about conflict from your child, is that you are hearing one side of the story. If your child is young, they are not capable of lying with intent in the way that a more mature brain is capable of doing BUT they are also not yet able to understand a scenario from a perspective other than their own. This can often lead to the child filling in details that support their own emotions surrounding the experience. Young children might not fully understand what happened so their brains create a narrative based on what they perceive as being the most likely scenario. For example, if a young child loses their balance and falls or bumps into someone else, it is fairly common for the children involved in the collision to say that the other child pushed them. This is because, from their perspective, someone did in fact push into their body. They are unable to understand the other person’s intention or perspective which is that they simply lost their balance and bumped into them. Again, the child is not intending to lie. This reaction is part of learning how to process these types of interactions.
As a loving and trusted adult in a child’s life, it’s important to understand this developmental stage and support the child in a way that will build their capacity to process and navigate conflict in a healthy way. When your child comes home with a story of conflict, the most important role you will play is that of a listener. Let your child tell their story and feel their emotions while you validate how they are feeling. If there is some obvious and simple suggestion or advice you could give them about what happened, you might choose to share it briefly at this time. Even better, is to note what skills might be helpful to model and share with them at a neutral time to help them better navigate a similar experience in the future. Either way, try not to dwell too much on the event and avoid bringing it up on a regular basis. This type of reaction can escalate your child’s own feelings about what may have happened and may cause them to dwell on the situation more than they would have on their own. Some children may also enjoy the attention this type of story reporting receives. They may begin to learn that reporting on or repeating stories of conflict is a great way to get someone’s attention or to get a conversation going. If the event seems unsafe or particularly negative, please reach out to your child’s guide to learn more and to ask about how you can help support what is being done at school. Remember, although conflict is uncomfortable, it is an inevitable part of life and navigating conflict is a valuable life skill for your child to learn!