Kids are bound to face conflict. Even best friends and close siblings don't always think alike or want the same thing. That's no big deal. But when disagreements lead to arguments and unkind words or behavior, tempers can flare and feelings can get hurt. And that can be a big deal.
A new KidsHealth® KidsPoll reveals that kids face conflict on a regular basis. And most of this conflict is with brothers and sisters.
Nearly two-thirds of kids ― 64% ― said that there's arguing at home at least every week. More than half ― 54% ― said that brothers and sisters are the ones they argue with the most.
This means that parents have many opportunities to teach kids how to resolve conflicts constructively. Once they learn how to do things like respect differences and reach compromises with their siblings, kids will have those skills to draw on whenever they're at odds with friends, teachers, coaches, and other adults.
What Parents Can Do
No one is born with conflict-resolution skills, like how to forgive, apologize, speak up, compromise, and respect others' differences ― we develop those over time. With some coaching from parents, kids can learn these skills and rely on them their entire lives.
Teaching conflict resolution boils down to a few basic principles that you've probably been encouraging since the early years:
- Take turns.
- Play fair.
- Use your words.
- Say it nicely.
- Do a favor for someone else.
As kids get older, these concepts apply to many situations. Taking turns, for example, teaches that it's important to let others go first or have their way sometimes. Encouraging kids to use words to express feelings, thoughts, and needs helps them learn how to say things like "I don't like what you did," "I disagree," or "I don't want to do that" when conflicts arise.
Let kids know that it's unacceptable to use unkind words or to hurt someone's feelings on purpose. When it happens, remind them that it's not OK and have them right the wrong by apologizing.
And be sure your own words are kind and fair. Apologize if your temper flares and causes you to say something you regret.
Siblings are our first peers, so encourage your kids to get along, share, listen, and take turns, which will help them develop skills they'll bring to relationships with friends, classmates, and teammates.
Provide guidance. If your daughter lets your son borrow a book, for example, praise her for sharing. If your kids each want to see a different movie, suggest a compromise where they pick a movie everyone can agree on. If they're fighting for control of the TV remote, help them to negotiate a schedule that gives each of them equal time. And when they do these things well, don't forget to praise them.
Know your kids. Consider each child's individual nature and personality. Kids naturally have different temperaments, so when facing conflict or differences of opinion, they react in different ways:
- Anger is some kids' first response to disagreement ― they may need their parents' help to learn how to cool their jets and manage frustration.
- Some kids get bossy and may treat others unkindly ― nurturing their empathy and sense of fairness can help.
- Some kids are uncomfortable with conflict and back down because they don't want to upset anyone ― parents can help them learn to speak up and ask for what they need and want.
All kids can benefit from their parents' understanding, patience, guidance, and role modeling as they learn to work out disagreements.
About the Poll
The national KidsPoll surveyed 1,245 9- to 13-year-old boys and girls about conflict. The KidsPoll is a collaboration of the Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth, the Department of Health Education and Recreation at Southern Illinois University - Carbondale, the National Association of Health Education Centers (NAHEC), and participating health education centers throughout the United States. Those centers include:
- CDC Global Health Odyssey — Atlanta, GA
- Children's Health Education Center — Milwaukee, WI
- Robert Crown Health Education Center — Chicago, IL
- Health World Children's Museum — Barrington, IL
- Hult Health Education Center — Peoria, IL
- Kansas Learning Center — Halstead, KS
- McMillen Center for Health Education — Ft. Wayne, IN
- Ruth Lilly Health Education Center — Indianapolis, IN
- Poe Center for Health Education — Raleigh, NC
- Weller Health Education Center — Easton, PA
Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: June 2007