Successfully Supporting Children in Arguments
Recently, my son and daughter had a heated disagreement stemming from a misunderstanding. Rather than reacting impulsively, I suggested they take time apart to think about their perspectives. Calming down, I listened to each one individually while away from each other, using neutral body language and clarifying their words. My responses went like this:
“So I'm hearing you are feeling frustrated because you thought she was ignoring your request for help in the game and you died. I see how that could make you feel this way”
“So you're telling me that you were new to the game and unfamiliar with how to help him because you were getting killed yourself, it sounds like you felt unheard when you were trying to explain that to him and also frustrated because you were dying in the game at the same time.”
I avoided apologizing in a way that assigned blame ("I'm sorry you are feeling frustrated"), focusing instead on validating their feelings. After individual discussions, I offered hugs and told them I'd be available if needed. Later, I provided ideas for repairing their relationship and approaching each other positively post-conflict. Avoiding shame or threats, I emphasized resolution over blame. Within minutes on their own, they talked, expressed and validated each other's feelings, found the misunderstanding, and happily resumed their activities with improved communication.
It's natural for children to argue, but modeling not assuming the worst and seeking clarification helps foster a healthy approach to conflict resolution. Misunderstandings occur, and the key is teaching them to aim for resolution by pausing, seeking clarification, and, if necessary, taking a break until emotions subside.
I've discovered the effectiveness of using technology to share tips with my kids instead of bombarding them with words, especially when they are anxious. I find this approach allows them to read at their own pace, without feeling pressured to respond or experiencing any sense of shame, rather feeling supported. Given their ages (upper elementary and middle school), meeting them in their comfort zone makes them more receptive to suggestions and more willing to consider different perspectives.
Here is the message I sent to my son after this happened:
I also sent my daughter a message along the same lines, of seeking resolution or help if she needs it.