Children: Coping with conflict

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The American Academy of Pediatrics has a good article regarding conflict that with just a little tweaking becomes very empathic.

We know according to Marshall Rosenberg that anger is simply a feeling that points to an unmet need. Anger is as normal as any other feeling. The strength of the emotion usually indicates how important the need is. When our children are feeling angry it is about something that is important to them. We can help them to work with this whether they are the one feeling angry or they are encountering someone else feeling angry.

When we become angry our “fight or flight” response is activated. Our heart starts to race, we can’t think clearly and we are full of energy. This comes in handy if we need to quickly get out of the way of something, but not so handy when someone has taken our favorite toy. So it’s helpful to teach our children to slow that response down enough that they can think. When they are feeling angry they can ACT: acknowledge, calm down, and think.

Our children first need to learn to recognize and acknowledge that these feelings they are having are called anger, and it means they have an unmet need. It might be helpful to talk with them about these feelings at times they aren’t angry. Have them describe to you a situation when they had these feelings. Let them describe exactly how their body was feeling. This way when they feel those same body responses in the future they can identify they are angry and try the following tips to help.

First have them try to slow the body down; take some deep breaths. Teaching your children to meditate comes in handy here. Have them use those same techniques to focus on their breathing. They can also do some vigorous exercise such as running. This will help expend that extra energy.

Then try to clear the mind with some distraction; something other than the problem at hand to help them reconnect to themselves. Many things help us reconnect to the stillness within us. They could listen to their favorite music, recite a favorite poem to themselves, or imagine a favorite place. These things will often remind them of what it feels like to be calm when their needs are met. All of these suggestions need to be practiced regularly when they aren’t in a stressful situation so they can become more skilled at doing this when they are stressed.

We can teach our children about the needs that usually are connected with feelings of anger. There are many but often times for our children it may be about fairness, or freedom. Teach them to practice observation rather than evaluation. In other words, “that child took my toy”, rather than “that mean kid stole my toy”; it can help to clarify the situation.

Once they can figure out what they need then they can decide the best way to get that need met. For our children talking with someone else may help with this. If they think talking to the person who stimulated the anger may get their need met, then certainly do this. If they don’t believe that would help, then perhaps talking to someone else, preferably with empathic skills may help.

Help your child to learn that they have the option to “table” this need for another time. It doesn’t mean it’s not important. They have the ability to choose the best place and time to get the need met, and it may not be that place and time.

If your child is faced with another angry child who is choosing to fight as a strategy to get their needs met, then they can use the CALM technique.


Calm Down
Their “fight or flight” response will certainly be stimulated if they are feeling threatened by another child. Use the same techniques mentioned above to calm their body and mind. Teach them to keep their distance. Running will actually accomplish two things here: making a safe distance from the threat and expending energy.

Responding to the other child with anything other than empathy will not help the situation. Teach your child not to respond with the same angry words.

This is where teaching your child non-violent communication will be so helpful. If they can hear what the other child needs they can help the other child to calm down. Teach them never to say “calm down”; this won’t help. What may help is to say, “you sound very angry; I think this is very important to you”. That will usually lead the other child to speak more clearly on what they want.

Move On
Once the conversation has shifted to talking about what the angry person needs, he usually calms down. Your child can even help the other child with ideas on how their needs could get met. It’s also helpful for your child to share what is going on for them once this happens. Once the other person is heard, some authentic sharing may help move the process along. If this isn’t working sometimes the best thing to do is walk away.