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5 Steps for Handling Conflict With Your Kids

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Anyone who has ever potty-trained a toddler knows that any kind of car trip is a gamble, especially early in training. Once your child shouts “I have to go,” you have two minutes or less to get the kid onto a potty. On three separate occasions, this exact scenario played out right as we were passing the Wawa, a gas station near my daughter’s school. Each of these Wawa potty breaks went something like this: I quickly jump out of the car, grab my son’s infant carrier, and race to unbuckle both kids. Before we get inside, my daughter changes her mind about having to go. I insist we still make the trip inside to use the bathroom, just in case. She throws herself to the concrete and begins to scream. Her yelling frustrates me, so I yell for her to stop. My yelling upsets my son in his carrier, so he starts crying. Eventually, we make it to the bathroom and back into the car. Everyone is in tears, and I now have a grudge against a gas station.

Knowing how to resolve conflict with your child doesn’t come naturally for most parents. Kids have big emotions, and they often express them in even bigger ways. It’s easy to react to their big feelings with big feelings of our own, but doing so only escalates the tension. Instead of simply reacting, I now try to follow these 5 steps to resolve conflict with my child.

1. Narrate the situation.

Sometimes big emotions happen quickly for our kids and it’s difficult for them to understand where they came from. They might even be scared or overwhelmed by them, which can cause them to have even bigger feelings on top of the ones they’re already feeling! Take time to narrate the situation so they have a better grasp of what’s going on in the moment. Try to indicate the why behind everything that’s happening if you can. “Yes, I took away your toy. You were not being gentle with it.”

2. Recognize your child’s feelings.

After you narrate, be sure to affirm how your child’s feeling instead of dismissing it. Try not to shame your kids for emoting—even if you think there is nothing for them to be upset about. However, if they are expressing their emotions in a negative manner by hitting, throwing things, or using hurtful words, you can affirm the emotion while disallowing the behavior. “You’re upset I took your toy. It’s OK for you to be upset. It is never OK for you to hit me.”

3. Stand your ground.

There are situations when it would be easier to simply give in to our children and avoid all-out meltdowns, right? Although this might be true, failure to stand our ground while our kids kick and scream shows them that if they push hard enough, we will give in to their demands. Standing your ground can be as simple as this: “Your toy will stay with me until I feel like I can trust you with it again.”

4. Offer affection or a kind word.

The good news is that you don’t have to be distant and cold while resolving conflict with your child. We can still stand our ground and show our kids we care for them deeply. You can let them know you are there with them while they navigate their feelings, offer a hug, or allow them to cry on your shoulder. Another positive tool is to remind them they are not their behavior. “I know you are a very responsible person. It was unlike you to treat your toy that way. I’m sure you will have kind hands with it in the future.”

You don’t have to be distant and cold while resolving conflict with your child. Click To Tweet

5. Redirect or give space.

Focusing on negative behavior for too long places unnecessary emphasis on it. For younger kids, redirection is a great tool to keep things moving along. Older children may need some time before they’re ready to move on. Instead of trying to force redirection, allow them to take the time they need. “I understand you need some time before you’re ready to start a new activity. That’s OK. Take the time you need. I will be here when you’re ready.”

How do you usually respond to your child’s big emotions? Is there anything you’d like to do differently next time?


Have you ever felt like your feelings were too much to handle? What are some things we can do to help you deal with them?

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