Peaceful conflict resolution is only possible when we honestly seek to hear and understand what another person is saying or experiencing. Teaching kids about conflict resolution begins with creating a foundation of strong relationships which will develop their emotional intelligence, building the empathy circuits in the brain, to help kids notice, recognize and manage their emotions and the emotions of others.
Here are three tips for developing emotional intelligence and building the empathy skills needed for peaceful conflict resolution:
1. Be mindful of a child's developmental stage.
Emotional age does not equal chronological age. Development is unique for everyone and there are many factors which contribute to a child's skill level.
Emotional learning is the focus of development during the early years. Some children, for a variety of reasons, may need more support, even if they appear "old enough" to "do what you ask."
If he won't do it... it means he can't do it - IN THAT MOMENT.
Feeling disconnected or unheard is a primary cause of relationship conflict. Staying compassionate and being aware of the need to model the skills a child hasn't yet mastered rather than force him to display such skills on command will save you the pain of resistance and an uncooperative attitude.
For example: apologies/sharing are social skills which need to be modeled repeatedly so that children can experience the effects of those actions. Forcing a child to share or apologize only instills a sense of obligation and guilt, which ultimately harms our relationships, and does not ensure that kids will adopt these values into their skill set.
2. Teach body intelligence.
Encourage your child to recognize what happens to her body when she is triggered emotionally. When she comes to know how her body responds to stress or change, she can learn to circumvent meltdowns or over-reactions and learn to successfully cope with disappointment and change.
Guide your child to notice the physical sensations that happen inside her body when something happens that she doesn't like. Have young children use colors, textures or shapes to describe their feelings and older children can journal or meditate to get in touch with their emotional state and body responses.
Recognizing body cues can also be practiced through role-play or dramatic play. Try not to force the issue in the heat of the moment or during unresolved conflict.
3. Build a vocabulary of feelings and needs.
Give your child the language to speak about how he feels and what he needs so that he can focus on self-regulating and creating solutions which address the underlying causes of conflict.
Every time your child hears you use the words to describe how you feel, instead of reacting to what you observe, he builds his skills to higher brain functions.
Having a vocabulary for emotions and learning to connect those emotions to his innermost needs (which are driving behavior) gives your child the ability to reflect on his actions and the freedom to change how he feels.
When we are free to express how we feel, our capacity for compassion soars.
Learning is social and emotional. Building empathy skills is not a linear process nor is it left-brained logical. Peaceful conflict resolution requires us to feel our emotions. Only then, can our experiences be successfully processed and integrated into a working model of positive behavior.
To know that our emotional state is not dependent on any one person or event is to have a solid foundation of emotional intelligence and the ability to access the empathy necessary to see another person's point of view.
These are the skills that will carry us through life's ups and downs with grace and resilience.
Without these three ingredients, the focus stays on the behaviors and moralistic judgments about who is right and who is wrong - all of which led to the conflict in the first place. Staying focused on the actions rather than the emotions only serves to incite more negativity and disconnection and moves us away from what we really need.
Non-punitive, conscious discipline is grounded in authentic relationships and compassionate communication and gives children the opportunity to feel, process and release negative emotions so that they can exhibit the empathy required to move past arguments, judgments and demands to achieve peaceful conflict resolution.
What do you think? Leave me a comment below and tell me about how you resolve conflict in your home or classroom?
Lori Petro is a Mom, Children's Advocate and Speaker. She is passionate about transforming our world through conscious parenting compassionate communication, and peaceful conflict resolution.
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