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What to Do When Your Child Argues with A Friend

When your child argues with a friend, it can be hard to know how to help. Sometimes we know our child’s actions weren’t kind.  Other times we are worried that are child had his feelings hurt by a friend.  Sometimes it can feel like all our child does is fight with others.  According to Brett Laursen and Gwen Pursell of Florida Atlantic University, preschool and young elementary school friends average almost three conflicts per hour.

Step One:  Show You Care

Your child might be very upset. Start with a hug or an understanding look.  We are all upset when we have a disagreement with someone we care about.  Although, you may be tempted to start correcting your child’s behavior, your child needs you to start with showing you care. 

Step Two:  Listen

Just listen to what your child has to say about the situation.  Try not to ask too many questions or get bogged down in what actually happened.   Just sit and listen to your child talk about what is on her mind.  Your child needs a chance to share his feelings and be heard.

Step Three: Reflect

Reflect back some of your child’s statements.  You might say something like, “Kaylin took the ball from you and then you yelled at her.”   Use a neutral tone and try to paraphrase or repeat back what your child is saying.  When you reflect back, you show your child that you are listening and you care.

Step Four:  Acknowledge That Your Child Is In A Difficult Situation

It is important that you show your child that you know that what he is going through isn’t easy for him.  Even if you think she is wrong, it is important to show that you know it is hard for your child.  You could say, “It sounds like you were really mad when Max said that he wouldn’t be your friend anymore.”  By acknowledging the situation, you are validating your child’s feelings and modeling appropriate expression of emotion.

Step Five:  Avoid Taking Sides

Avoid assuming that your child is “right” or “wrong” in a situation.  We will never know exactly what happened when a child disagrees with a friend.  Even if there are adults in the room or on the playground, it is impossible to see and consider all that may have occurred leading up to a disagreement.  We also cannot fully understand how each event was interpreted cognitively and emotionally by each child

Step Six:  Ask Your Child If He or She Wants To Help

After you have shown your child you care, listened, reflected, and really shown your child that you know that he is struggling, ask him if he needs help.  Your child may have just needed someone to listen and boost them up with some warmth and kind words.  As parents, we know it is our job to care for our children and try to make their worlds better.  However, we also want our children to become more independent as they grow up.  Allowing your child to have a choice in receiving help for social situations, depending on age, is an important way of showing your child that you respect her wishes and right to her own friendships.  Giving your child a choice in receiving help also shows your child that you have confidence in her ability to solve problems. 

Step Seven:  Encourage Perspective Taking

If your child does want help with their friendship dilemma, after your child has calmed down some, go ahead and encourage him to try to understand how the other child might have felt in the moment.  You could say, “How do you think Keaton would have felt if you didn’t want to play with him?”  or “Has this ever happened to you?  How did you feel?”  You are encouraging your child to try to understand the feelings of others.  Empathy and learning how other feel, takes time to develop.  Your child doesn’t need to voice understanding immediately or consistently.  Your goal is to plant seeds for understanding and getting along with others.

Step Eight:  Brainstorm With Your Child

If your child wants help, spend time asking her what could have happened differently.  You could ask a question like, “What might you different next time?”  If your child makes a comment that even seems close to a good positive way to handle conflict, go ahead and give a big praise!  We want to praise even baby steps towards the goal.  Praising your child’s own ideas, even if the aren’t exactly what you would recommend will be more meaningful to your child as well as more likely to be remembered and used.  In addition, your child will have a huge self-esteem boost!

Step Nine:  Remember That Learning To Get Along With Others Can Take Time

Learning to cope well when you don’t get your way or don’t agree with someone is really a lifelong process for most people.  Your child will make small steps towards this goal and occasionally have a few moments that seem like back steps and then start moving forward again.  That is okay.  Children have a long time to grow up and learn the important skill of getting along with their friends. 


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