February 11, 2020
The night of my stepson’s 11th birthday, I was heavily pregnant and we were all about to sit down for a festive dinner when the doorbell rang. I opened the door to a couple who promptly reported a squabble between my stepson and their boy. They proceeded to enter our home uninvited while venting their anger and sadness. The whole situation felt so intrusive, spoiling what should have been a happy evening.
As you can imagine, I never forgot that incident and it strengthened my professional opinion. To put it plainly: parents, please don’t ever do that!
Don’t jump into reactive mode
As a parent, you always side with your child. Our natural inclination is to protect our young. During one of my conferences, a mother summed up this protective instinct into two words: mama bear. And all the other parents could relate!
When your child goes through an emotionally charged situation, it’s quite normal it triggers tensions in you as well. When kids experience anger, sadness, injustice or other strong feelings, they need and seek comforting. This is why they come to their favourite trusted confidants: their parents. To satisfy this need for security, parents must listen and, above all, remain calm. I know, I know, it’s a tall order! We also tend to be reactive rather than solution-oriented; we want to discharge emotionally. This mindset can quickly lead to non-constructive remarks that will only fuel the unpleasant emotions the child is feeling… as well as our own. We then fall into what is called co-rumination.
Switch to solution mode
When your child tells you about a conflict he or she experienced, your first move is to try to remain calm and listen to their story. Ask open-ended questions like “Who were you with?” and “How did you feel?”. You could also ask “What solutions did you try?” or “What would you like to do next?”. This approach opens the door to more elaborate responses that take into account your child’s needs and wants.
Next, validate your child’s emotions and explain these feelings are all part of a normal reaction. In doing so, you show empathy, a source of comfort at any age—and exactly what your child needs at that moment!
You can then discuss how your child attempted to resolve the conflict, and brainstorm new techniques to try out. Guide your child in choosing a proactive, pro-social and realistic strategy. You are thus giving your child a sense of control over the situation, which is empowering. This type of intervention will foster your child’s confidence in various circumstances, including those that require conflict management. Let’s be honest, most people experience conflict throughout their life, so it’s important to develop problem-solving skills at a young age. Stepping in and dealing with the situation yourself will only indicate a lack of faith in your child; that you don’t believe in their capacity to resolve the conflict. Lastly, stepping in will also denying your child the opportunity to practise, which doesn’t really promote skills development.
So let’s show our kids a little trust; remember that conflict is normal—and even healthy—in relationships. In the end, what your child needs is for you to listen, care, and show your support.