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Conflict resolution for kids

In the long run, children may benefit from being taught to resolve disputes for themselves, rather than having an adult arbitrate.

November 21, 2009|By Madeleine Brand

Some of us are conflict avoiders. Some of us are conflict seekers. Sometimes it seems as if our children are all conflict seekers and we parents are conflict avoiders -- or conflict stiflers.

In my latest Parenting on the Edge podcast, I explore the best way to resolve our children's conflicts. It turns out the best solution may be not to resolve them at all.

Susie North, a professional mediator and parent educator, says moms and dads shouldn't try to decide who started the fight, who had the toy first, who's right or who's wrong. Instead, parents should teach kids to resolve their own problems. Mediate, don't arbitrate.

That sounds good, but it also takes a lot of a parent's time and effort -- a lot more time than simply making a decision and moving on. What if you're rushing the kids to school and need to get to work, and the kids are screaming at each other in the back of the car?

What if the children's disputes escalate into physical aggression?

Do you make children say they're sorry, even if they're not? And why?

North talks through the answers and explains how being the arbitrator -- the one deciding what's correct and what's morally right -- can put undo stress on a parent. An adult who mediates doesn't have to be all-wise and all-powerful. Instead, the adult assists children with communication, so they can work things out themselves. The practice just may help Mom and Dad as much as it does the kids.

"It's shockingly similar working with adults as working with children," North says. "We're all people and we all have these emotions. Most conflicts boil down to possession or respect -- in the sandbox, in the boardroom, at the U.N. Think about it."

Listen to the complete conversation, share it with friends and chime in with your thoughts. You'll find a link on our L.A. at Home blog,

Brand is podcasting monthly for Home. A growing library of her reports as well as our other recurring family features can be found at

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