If you are a parent or a teacher or anyone who has ever spent time with children, you know that sometimes… children fight. And that’s ok. In fact, it’s a very normal part of growing up, of learning how to communicate, of navigating how to get along with others. The challenge comes when, as a parent or the adult in a child’s life, you don’t know what to do or how to handle your kids fighting.

As therapists, at The Relationship Therapy Center, we know the importance of conflict resolution skills – for adults, for teenagers, and for young children. The aim of this article is to arm you with some tools and techniques to teach your child how to resolve conflicts in a healthy and effective way. Teaching them tools for conflict resolution when they are young will not only help them with friends and siblings, at school and on the playground, but will also serve them for the rest of their life. 

Children’s fights often stem from big emotions that they don’t know how to handle. That is why Dr. John Gottman and the Gottman Institute developed an approach to conversations with children called Emotion Coaching. Emotion Coaching is an evidence-based parenting tool that teaches children how to manage big emotions and think through situations to find the best solution possible. Emotion Coaching will take time for both you and your child to get used to, but have patience because it will absolutely be worth it!

As written by Dr. John Gottman in his book, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, there are five steps in an Emotion Coaching Conversation. They are as follows.

Step one: Tune to your child. Take stock of any low intensity emotions that might signal something bigger is coming. These signals can include furrowed eyebrows or folded arms, among others.

Step two: Flip it to the positive. Choose to see the moment as a gift. When a child begins to act out or throw a tantrum, as a parent, you have a choice to make. You can either react to the child’s emotions or you can choose to see the experience as an opportunity to teach and connect. The choice is yours.

Step three: Listen to each child’s side of the story. When two or more children are involved, ask both to tell their side of the story. Listen patiently and mirror back to them what they are saying. Often, children just need to be heard and this mirroring process will validate and affirm what they are saying. 

Step four: Teach your child how to label their emotions. Steer clear of telling a child how they are feeling. Instead, ask him or her to identify their emotions. Simple phrases such as “How does it make you feel when _____?” or “Do you feel sad, angry, or frustrated right now?” are great. Many times children aren’t even aware of what they are feeling because they are too caught up in their reaction to the situation. Teaching children when they are young to label their emotions empowers them to understand and express themselves in a healthier way.

Step five: Conflict resolution. This is the biggest and most important step in the conversation. Step five is all about problem-solving with your child to resolve the conflict, while also setting limits about what behavior is or is not acceptable. For example, asking “What would make you feel better right now?”, or “What is it that you want?” can help direct the conversation towards a solution. Then, work together to brainstorm ways to make that outcome possible. Ideas can include reminding them what they’ve done in the past, telling stories about what you did as a child, or using other people as excellent examples. Come up with a short list of ideas together and then guide your child to evaluate each of them. “What do you think would happen if you did ____?” or, “How do you think I/you would feel if you _____?”. Walking your child through this process helps them to connect their actions to specific results. It allows them to see the cause and effect of their choices. The final piece of step five is to let your child choose what they want to do next. “What would you like to do now?” and, “What would you do differently next time?” are great questions that allow your child to feel empowered in their decision.

Emotion Coaching conversations do not have to include each of the five steps listed above. Sometimes just two or three of these actions are all that’s needed in a conversation. But by paying attention to your child’s signals, listening to them, and asking guided questions, you will be helping to equip your child to be a self-ware, emotionally intelligent, problem solver. It’s not always easy, so stay patient and enjoy the journey! Please reach out to us at The Relationship Therapy Center in Roseville and Fair Oaks, CA with any questions or to book a family therapy appointment today.

Other Services offered at The Relationship Therapy Center in California:

In addition to child therapy, Our Sacramento area counseling clinics located in Roseville and Fair Oaks, CA are pleased to offer a variety of mental health services. We will discuss the importance of self-care and emotional support to help you cope and to discover ways to find healthy ways of dealing with stress.   

Child therapy can be beneficial, with the right therapist. Our compassionate therapists are trained to walk you through the process and help you find healing and peace. Please contact our therapy office to learn more about the many ways we can help you and your loved ones heal, grow, and love healthy.