The One Skill Kids Need to Resolve Conflicts
"You always break my stuff!"
"If you don't play pirates I'm not going to be your friend anymore."
I know you hear phrases like these all the time. I definitely do.
When people are mad they blame, threaten and call names.
It's normal for kids to lash out when they're mad. And it's normal for fights to escalate until a caregiver steps in to solve the problem and dole out punishments.
Fights are where kids learn how to resolve conflict. If kids fight in this typical way, they may become adults who blame, threaten and call names.
Instead, kids can learn to resolve conflicts respectfully by using I-statements.
I-statements show respect and they work.
I-statements, like "I feel sad that you don't want to play pirate with me" immediately change the dynamic of a fight. They quiet the moment and put the focus on feelings. It's so much easier for kids to solve a problem when they first hear how the other kid feels. Hearing an I-statement engages their empathy.
I-statements always start with a feeling.
I'm scared or I feel ashamed not, "I'm leaving"! One of the cool things about I-statements is that they help kids identify their feelings. Kids are usually mad during a fight but underneath that anger is often (read always) an emotion like sadness, loneliness or fear.
We can help children broaden their emotional vocabulary by playing games like feelings charades so they are better able to label how they feel when using I-statements.
Kids need us to coach them to use I-statements.
Lots of kids have heard the phrase, it's okay to be mad but it's not okay to be mean. But many kids don't know what to say when they're mad instead of the mean things that come to mind. They need us to coach, "tell him how you feel." Sometimes they need us to give them a script, "try, I'm mad and disappointed because I want to play pirates with you." The other kid might need coaching too. A script like, "I'm sorry you're sad but I really want to play legos."
During some fights we have to remind kids to use I-statements several times. Like, "that's a threat, try telling her how you feel." "It's not okay to call names, try saying I feel scared..."
It's kind of weird to tell kids exactly what to say. But I believe that communication skills like other skills (soccer skills, math skills, nunchuck skills) have to be explicitly taught before kids can practice them on their own.
This doesn't mean we need to hover over kids as they play waiting to coach them through every disagreement. But I do think we need to be aware of kids' conversations so that we can seize such opportunities to teach kids to how to use I-statements.
Over time kids start to use I-statements on their own.
You know what this means don't you? They need less help from us! It also means our kids are on the path to be adults who say, "I'm kind of hurt that you cancelled our plans" instead of "you always...!"