Friday, August 15, 2008

Teaching Children How to Deal with Conflict

Ted Crawford, Clinical Therapist

Childhood/adolescence is “social boot-camp” minus the handshake and salute at the end of it. At no other time is the lack of tact and sensitivity in our peers as rampant as when we’re young. As parents, we are our children’s survival instructors. Neglecting this obligation sends them recklessly dancing into the minefield of interpersonal relations.

It’s easier said than done, however, as we can only pull from our own experience, the meaning of which often fails to crossover the generation-gap. Suggestions follow.

First, cut the chances that your “pearls of wisdom” will be ignored. When a child/adolescent is upset, one of our biggest parental blunders is scrambling to pacify or critique. These reactions convey that we can’t tolerate their feelings and that they can’t (or shouldn’t) either. Besides, trying to “logic” someone out of an emotional moment is like tap-dancing to save them from drowning. Not terribly effective. Though it’s easier to be supportive when we understand, the ability to relate to their feelings is not a prerequisite. With as few words as possible, reflect first (“It must be pretty disappointing/irritating/ painful when…”). Then be silent. This allows them space, pressure-free, to process their feelings independently. Behaviors are choices subject to judgment and acceptability, but feelings are merely facts. When kids trust that those feelings will be accepted, they share more and open up to your guidance.

Speaking of guidance, move in sensitively, as if you were advising someone you really admired (kids will soak it up). Discuss how expecting others to “act right” can be a set-up for frustration and resentment, but that we can learn to control how we let others affect us. Re bullies:

1) Plant seeds of “perspective.” Discuss how people generally “spread what they have” i.e., those who lash out are wounded. That doesn’t excuse bad behavior, but ask if they would want to trade places or actually be the person who’s harassing them. Usually, the answer is a clear “no!”

2) Assert that reporting another’s provocation/threat is sometimes a necessary part of protecting yourself without risking more trouble. Conversely, “ratting” on someone is when, for ulterior motives, you report a behavior that doesn’t affect you.

3) Teach kids to see provocations as “hooks”; that ignoring the antagonizer completely disrupts his/her goal and shows that you’re smart enough not to take the bait.

With relationships in general, squash the belief that admitting mistakes shows weakness. Absurd! How much strength does it take to deny wrongdoing or blame others when you’re guilty as sin? A toddler in a loaded diaper can do that all day long! There’s no greater sign of courage and strength than the ability to humble down and own up. When “humility” steps into the ring, the fight’s over before it begins and real friends are revealed, as they’ll be the ones who gain trust and respect for your kid. The most effective way to teach all of the above? Model it (yeah, you knew it was sounding a little too easy).

Ted Crawford is a Clinical Therapist for FGH's Employee Assistance Program, which provides counseling for hospital employees and their families. He is licensed in Marriage and Family Therapy and works with clients on a wide range of issues including depression, anger, anxiety and trauma. Ted also facilitates the local Domestic Violence Intervention Program for men with anger and control issues.

Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services is an extension of Forrest General Hospital, located in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Pine Grove’s world renowned programs focus on treating gender specific chemical addiction including a specialized track for co-occurring eating disorders. Additionally, Pine Grove offers a focused substance abuse healing program for adults age 55 and over. Other Pine Grove specialty programs include a dedicated professional’s treatment curriculum and a comprehensive evaluation center. Pine Grove also features a program for patients with sexual and intimacy disorder issues. Pine Grove was established in 1984 and has provided nationally and internationally recognized health care for over 30 years.

Visit www.pinegrovetreatment.com or call 1-888-574-HOPE (4673) for more information.