Coping with Conflict

Ever have a sweet child meltdown into a disaster right before your eyes? One moment your day is going smoothly and suddenly a sibling won’t share or the child has to stop playing because its time to do something else and BOOM! a meltdown of epic proportion occurs.

I attended an education seminar last week entitled “Coping with Conflict”. I left the class very encouraged with some great reminders and fresh tips to help me deal with moments when children are having trouble interacting with each other or even me, the caregiver.

The goal of all parents and caregivers is to turn negative behavior into positive behavior. How do we go about doing that? In the midst of a conflict moment, it’s sometimes difficult to maintain perspective and act in a way to work towards the goal of changing negative into positive. (We just want the meltdown moment to end QUICKLY!) Here are some simple steps that help us see our goals and attain them in a way that benefits the child as well as the caregiver.

Step 1: Assuming this is a recurring event, take some time when the event is not happening to label the negative behavior  and determine why it’s happening.  Think through what triggers this event and why you think the child is having trouble. For example, a common problem would be a refusal to share toys with a sibling/friend. This could be happening because the child developmentally doesn’t understand the concept of sharing, but it can also be that the child simply wants to the gratification of having that toy all to himself.

Step 2: Determine what your desired behavior would be. In this instance, we want sharing to take place without squabbling or a meltdown.

Step 3: Teach the child your desired behavior and use positive reinforcement to affirm the child when proper actions are taken. Demonstrating sharing for the child can be a simple start to the teaching process as you share something with them or with another child. Once you are aware of a behavior you would like to teach, look for that behavior throughout the day and try to “catch” the child doing that behavior and affirm them like crazy. These teachable moments are a great time to slip in one or two reasons why the appropriate action is important so the child begins to understand the value of the behavior.

In our example, the word “share” may create negative feelings for the child. In that case, try the word “trade” instead. If each child has an item and they are willing to “trade” with each other, this can feel like a ‘win-win’ instead of simply having to give up a toy to another.

Step 4: Ignore the tantrums if they repeat. In a video at the class I attended, a teacher was working with a child having trouble sharing. She set up an opportunity for the child to share (trade) and then gave the child a time frame to comply. When the child was unwilling, she introduced a great phrase, “Do you need me to help you share?” Sometimes the parent/caregiver needs to step in to help the correct behavior occur. When a tantrum then ensued, the teacher ignored the tantrum, focusing on the other child until the child was able to calm down. When calm, the teacher returned her attention to the first child and praised her for her calm body, deep breaths etc.

The bottom line of my class seemed to be ‘reinforce the positive, don’t give attention to the negative’.  As we deal with the ups and downs of caregiving, it’s vital to keep an attitude of positive thinking, seeing the good your children do every day and the good choices they make.  Recognize the negative behavior for what it is, share with them how you want them to correct it, and then watch for opportunities to affirm their good decisions.

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