Tag Archives: conflict

Conversations Without Answers

Imagine helping kids to start a conversation without worrying about where it will end up. As adults we often think we know where a conversation should go, think we know the answers. But do we always know best?

In a previous post, we wrote about conversations without questions. We suggested avoiding questions in hard talks with kids, teens, and significant others. In these circumstances, questions often seem pedantic and can put the other person on the spot (“Why would you do that?”, “What were you thinking?”) … not a good strategy for achieving mutual understanding when talking about something of importance. In this post, we want to talk about conversations without answers.

Parents often struggle when there is conflict between kids because they feel they need to find answers, to fix problems. They either avoid the tension by separating the kids, or push an imposed resolution that makes little sense to young ones. What if we grown-ups enter into conversations about conflict without being responsible for finding the answer? Are we really the ones most qualified to find the answers anyhow?

When there is a conflict, one of the great gifts we can give our kids is simply to help them acknowledge feelings and make sure everyone feels heard and understood. From this place of understanding, it is easy (and enlightening) to then invite all involved to consider a solution. Help children be heard and understood, and then stand back to watch their natural problem-solving skills kick in. Sometimes the answers come easily, sometimes they don’t, and sometimes it is enough merely to acknowledge that there has been a conflict and exchange apologies. There doesn’t always have to be an answer; but there can always be reconciliation.

If we are the kinds of people who don’t like uncertainty, then we are likely to push for answers in order to put ourselves at ease. By relaxing our impulse to fix problems, we are able to cultivate more open conversations between kids, in which they are more free to discover solutions for themselves. If we’re honest with ourselves, we also sometimes carry around our own memories of personal conflict. When this is true, it’s even more important to help kids work out problems in their own power, so that we don’t press them inappropriately to a conclusion meant to satisfy us.

Make room for more creative solutions in conversations between children by not assuming that we know the answers to their problems: a conversation begun without an answer in mind is one that encourages full participation. The wise grown-up will recognize that this strategy is not only suitable for children.

[This post originally appeared on the Parenting on The Peninsula Blog]

Conflict-free classrooms?


“Peace isn’t the absence of conflict. Peace is the respectful resolution of conflict.”

Heather Shumaker’s excellent book, “It’s OK Not to Share, and Other Renegade Rules For Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids” (the source of the quotes herein), lays down a number of surprising rules, from the one in the title to other nuggets, like, “Kids don’t have to say I’m sorry”, “We’re not all friends here”, and “Kids need conflict”. That last one is all about the priceless opportunities kids have to learn about peace from their earliest days in school. Shumaker does a great job of putting conflict in its place. And, she says, the place for conflict is right in the middle of the school room.

“Many of us avoid conflict and confrontation at all costs”, Shumaker writes, describing what is really an epidemic attitude in the U.S. … the avoidance of pain. Nobody wants their kids to face the pain that comes from conflict …. But when we shelter our kids from conflict, we deny them the opportunity that pain presents to adapt and learn. Shumaker describes how conflicts and problems are the way to learn about true peace, the kind that comes from facing and overcoming difficulties. She argues that far from protecting our youngest from these hard lessons, we need to allow them to pass through them, trusting in a young child’s ability to discover and try solutions.

“Children learn about peace by having problems.”

When conflict arises in the classroom, we (mature!) adults help children mediate conflict, not by preventing it, but by educating young ones about their part in making conflict, and helping them discover their part of the solution. We identify the causes of conflict (“When you passed by, you knocked over something that she made.”; help a child think about how their actions can hurt another (“It sounds like she is sad and a little angry that her project is knocked over.”); and model, or guide a child in, identifying solutions for the benefit of all (“What can we do now?” … “Let’s offer to help her build it again!”).

There is no real way to avoid conflict. It’s part of how we adapt and grow. Conflict only becomes a crisis when one tries to silence or limit the freedom of another. That’s what makes war between us grown-ups. Let’s teach our kids how to face conflict with patience and grace. It could change the world.

“Talk of peace isn’t meaningful to young kids. Neither is ‘being nice.’ Kids need chances to navigate conflict firsthand and learn what’s appropriate. What do I do when conflict comes up? What do I say? How do I set a limit on another’s behavior? Once kids know these answers they can mediate their own conflicts in most amazing ways.”

[This post originally appeared on Parenting On The Peninsula’s Blog]