Teaching Children to Confront Conflict

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Teaching Children to Confront Conflict

One important lesson for children that is often passed over is learning to confront conflict. When a conflict between two peers occurs – for example, “Mom! Joseph threw his toy at me!” or “Mom! Sarah colored all over my picture and ruined it!” – our first response is usually to intervene and correct any wrongs. We jump in to immediately stop the argument, and dish out punishment. Does this scene look familiar?

“Mom! Joseph threw his toy at me! Then he laughed about it! It hurt really bad!”

Mom enters the room and immediately turns to Joseph.

“Joseph, did you throw your toy at Jacob? That was not okay. If you can’t play nicely then you will have to take a break up in your room. Do you understand?”

Joseph nods silently while giving his mom an apologetic stare.

In this scenario, the child tattles and the parent jumps in to lecture. The child misbehaving learns from the parent what is acceptable behavior, what is not acceptable behavior, and what is expected of him from his parent. The child also learns what consequences the parent will deliver should his behavior not change. All these lessons are important, but what is missing, however, is a lesson on confronting conflict for both children.

The child misbehaving – Joseph, in our example – is interacting with the parent only. The only person he has to apologize to is his mother, and the only reason why he should behave nicely is because his mother will be upset and he will have to take a break in his room. The consequences are dictated and determined by his mother, not his peer. This is often why children will misbehavior with peers when parents or another adult is not present.

Confronting conflict on their own (with the help of a parent), teaches children how their behavior affects their peers, and that regardless of a parent’s reprimand, there are consequences to face with their peers as well. Let’s re-approach our first example:

“Mom! Joseph threw his toy at me! Then he laughed about it! It hurt really bad!”

Mom enters the room and immediately turns to Jacob.

Mom: “Jacob, can you tell Joseph why you are upset?”

Jacob turns to Joseph: “You threw the train at me and it hit my arm! It hurt really bad!”

Mom: “Now it’s your turn to talk Joseph.”

Joseph turns to his mother, but his mother stops him: “Joseph, look at Jacob. Talk to him, not me.”

Joseph turns to Jacob, but his silent. He waits for a few seconds with an apologetic stare: “I was just giving you the train to play.”

Jacob looks at his mom prepared to rebuttal. Mom points back to Joseph with a look of encouragement.

Jacob: “You didn’t give me the toy. You threw it at me. I don’t like to play when you throw things at me.”

Joseph: “I’m sorry Jacob.”

Jacob: “It’s okay.”

In this scenario, instead of the mother being a main part of the dialog, the two children were. Jacob and Joseph were able to confront each other and discuss the conflict themselves. This situation allowed them both to practice confronting conflict, which takes a lot of courage and confidence. It also helps a child learn how to regulate their emotions and anxiety during a state of arousal. Although one child is really upset, he practiced using a calm voice to confront his peer about what was making him upset.

In addition, the children also learn how to take responsibility for their behavior. An argument of “No I didn’t! He did!” is averted when the conflict is kept between the two children. The children do not have to prove who did what, as there is no adult to mediate. The mediation is between the two children. In this situation, Joseph learned how to accept his behavior, and take responsibility for his actions. Both children also learned that it’s okay to make mistakes. When children confront conflict together, there is no “naughty” or “bad” child, just forgiveness.

Lastly, one of the most important lessons learned when a children successfully confront conflict together, is how their behavior affects others. In the conflict above, Jacob stated: “I don’t like to play when you throw things at me.” Their friendship and time together was at stake, which was more valuable to the two children than a short break in their room. When working the conflict out together, children learn there are other consequences to their actions aside from how their parent’s will react. Acceptance from peers is important, and is what will help a child from doing hurtful things in the future when a parent or teacher is not around to see.

Learning how to confront conflict is an important lesson for children that can be practiced every day at home and at school. Take the next moment of crisis during play to teach children how to work the problem out together, accept responsibility, and learn how their behavior affects others around them. Focus less on the consequences, and more on the dialog between the two children. Utilizing these teachable moments will help develop more responsible and emotionally secure children, and will leave you feeling less like a dictator, and more like a peacemaker!

nessa  Vanessa Lemminger M.A., LMFT 53937
Marital and Family Therapist






© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

This blog (https://vanessalemminger.wordpress.com/) is for informational and educational purposes only. No therapist-client relationship arises. The information provided and any comments or opinions expressed are intended for general discussion and education only, even when based on a hypothetical. They should not be relied upon for ultimate decision-making in any specific case. There is no substitute for consultation with a qualified mental health specialist, or even a physician, who could best evaluate and advise based on a careful, considered evaluation of all pertinent facts. Likewise, it is understood that no guarantee or warranty arises from the information provided or discussed on this (https://vanessalemminger.wordpress.com/) blog.



New Developments on Autism and Asperger’s

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 10.53.38 PMThe Huffington Post’s staff writer, Bahar Gholipour reports on new research findings on the different brain patterns and connectivity of children with autism, in comparison to children with Asperger’s syndrome.

In Gholipour’s article: ‘Asperger’s And Autism: Researchers Find Brain Differences’, he reports that in a 400-participant study, researchers observed stronger connections between several regions in the left hemisphere of the brain in children with Asperger’s, in comparison to both children with autism and typically-developing children.

These research findings provide excitement, and provide new research avenues for future studies.  However, the study draws criticism to the recent DSM-V changes that merged Asperger’s syndrome into a general category of autism spectrum disorders (ASD).  What do these differences mean, and how will they influence future treatment for individuals with Asperger’s?

Questions like these, and many others are just the beginning for those in the mental health community.  To read more, you can find the full article here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/05/aspergers-autism-brain-differences_n_3707791.html


Gholipour, B. (2013).  ‘Asperger’s and Autism: Researchers Find Brain Differences’. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/05/aspergers-autism-brain-differences_n_3707791.html


© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Resource for Parents: FREE IEP Evaluation Day!

Here is a great resource for parents in San Diego County! Thomas Nelson is a Special Education Advocate and Attorney that offers an array of services from Special Education Advocacy, IEP appearances, legal representation, Regional Center Claims, and much more.   Thomas Nelson offers a variety of seminars, workshops, and even a free IEP evaluation for parents in San Diego County.  See the flyer below for more details on how to take advantage of these useful resources!

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This free event is held once a month on Saturdays, and offers parents of children with special needs with the following opportunities:

*  Free Individual appointment (one-hour block) with a special education attorney;

*  Includes review of their child’s IEP, including progress, goals, as well as the services and placement their child is receiving.

*  Ask any questions they may have regarding their child’s special education program.

Parents can RSVP to edlaw5@yahoo.com or by calling 858-945-6621 to reserve a one hour block from 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.

The event is open to both English and Spanish speaking parents. Just visit www.specialedlaw.us/seminars.php (or http://specialedlaw.us/sp/seminars.php for Spanish) to view the flyer for the event, or send Thomas Nelson an email and he will forward you the flyer. You can also visit his website at www.specialedlaw.us.

How to Make the Most of a Social Outing

How to Make the Most of a Social Outing

A child’s learning does not just stop at school or the therapy session.  Providing opportunities for your child to learn and practice their social skills is a great strategy for continued learning.  Setting up a play-date or social outing for your child is a great start, but there is more you can do to help facilitate appropriate social interaction and social skills while allowing the natural peer interaction to take place.

Children age 2-6

For parents with younger children, it is important to take time and observe the children’s play.  Children at this age can have unique styles of play, and do not always use logical play.  Instead of immediately joining the children in play, spend time observing first.  Watch how the rules of the play are established, and what the object or goal of the play is.  Study how they transition between play, and what themes they frequent (Do they always play some version of house, or do they lean more towards adventures?) Once you’ve taken some time to understand their style of play, join in, but let the kids take the lead.  Asking questions is a great way to engage more conversation in play while still leaving the control to the kids.  As an example:

Three kids are pretending to cook in the sand box, and you join.  Questions you can ask: “Can I play?” “Who can I pretend to be?” “What are you making?” “What should I make?” “Who is going to eat the food?” “Where should we take the food?” What do we cook next?”

Another great technique to naturally model appropriate social play is to think out loud.  Narrate everything you are doing while playing.

“Hmm… I want to dig a tunnel, but I need the blue shovel and Jared has the blue shovel.  Maybe I could ask him to take a turn with it.  Jared, can I take a turn with the blue shovel?”

“Oh no! I want to play on the swings, but everyone is playing in the sand.  I really wish I had someone to swing with.  Maybe I could ask someone to come play with me! Caleb, do you want to play on the swings with me?”

Remember, when working with kids, less is more.  The goal is to create natural social interaction, and it’s important not to over-pathologize your child’s behavior.  Children do not always say “thank you” after every single toy exchange, and do not compliment their peers on everything they do.  It is also typical for children at this age to play alone or have moments of parallel play (children playing adjacent to each other).  Don’t feel like you need to be maintaining constant dialog.  When the environment is relaxed a child will feel more comfortable going beyond their typical boundaries.

 Children age 7-12

Parents with middle-aged children should focus on building self-esteem and competency during social outings.  This is the age where children develop of sense of self, which makes modeling appropriate social behavior important. A great way to do this is to be overly socially appropriate yourself.  For most, social skills come naturally so we do not even realize the different social behaviors we are exhibiting.  As a parent modeling appropriate social behavior, the goal is to expand these interactions and amplify them.  To provide an example:

Two individuals, John and Gary are at a bowling alley.  John sees Gary pick up his ball and start walking towards the lane.  This triggers John to think, “Oh, it must be Gary’s turn.”  John then glances up at the screen to confirm his thought that it was, in fact, Gary’s turn.  After Gary sends his last ball down the lane, he casually tosses a hand up, which John meets with his own.  Without checking the screen, John walks up to the lane for his turn.

A child with ASD may not see all these subtle social interactions that take place, and deciphering when it is okay to approach the lane, who’s turn it is, or what to say to a friend may not be so obvious.  This short interaction can be amplified and expanded by being curious, asking questions, and making observations.  For example, to prompt a child to look at whose turn it is or stay focused on a game, a parent could ask the child, “Whose turn is it? Do you know whose turn it is, Molly?” A child at this age will be more receptive to the former approach versus, “Molly, it is your turn.  Make sure to pay attention to the game.”  Using observational statements also helps narrate some of these interactional patterns.  A parent could say, “Wow, Molly! Sarah hit 2 pins on her first try, and 6 pins on her second try.  She did a great job. I’m going to give her a high-five!”  Expanding your language beyond “Good job!”, “Great work!”, and “Nice try!” is also helpful.  Try to compliment and appreciate a child’s specific behavior and achievements.  Some example of this phrasing include:

“Andrew, you put your lunch box away by yourself!”

“When you put toys away, that helps Ms. Smith.  She appreciates your help!”

“Carissa, thank you for giving Ella an extra turn.  That was showing great sportsman ship!”

Children at this age also like to have a sense of control and independence.  It’s important for all parents to establish boundaries, but allowing your child to choose some of the rules and boundaries for play will give them a sense of control and create a less restriction environment.   When feeling in control and relaxed, a child will feel more comfortable opening up and exercising their social skills.  Giving children some control of their environment and boundaries will also lead to less resistance or less focus on the “rules”, which will allow the child to be more productive during their social play.  Language and approach makes all the difference when talking to children.  For example, which of the following phrases sounds [approachable?]:

“Well, we could play [game X] or we could also play [game Y].  What do you both want to do?”

“Well, that is not an option.  You can pick [A] or [B].  Which one?”

The words “could”, “also”, and “want” provide a softer approach that appears to be giving all the choice to the child, when in fact you as the parent set the parameters.

Teens 13-18

Working on appropriate social skills with teens during play-dates or outings can be tricky.  First off, it is probably best if you refrain from using the word “play-date” with your teen.  Instead, use “hanging out”.  All teens have an increased self-awareness and are very sensitive to being embarrassed.  Working with your teen is all about being natural and playing it cool.  No teen is going to want their mom or dad lurching around them while their hanging out with their friends, and especially not if they are going to point out things they are doing wrong.  The first key to working with your teen in social situations is to blend in.   As much as you despise that video game with exploding zombie heads, act like you love it! Maybe they are playing a game that makes absolutely no sense at all to you: act excited to learn how to play! Every teen has liked something absolutely silly at that age, but if you are not receptive to their interests, they are not going to be receptive to yours (working on the social skills).  Try your best at refraining from saying as many “Eww!”s or “What?!”s as possible (if you are really brave, try using some “Cool!”s and “Awesome!”s), and instead ask questions about the game or activity they’re playing.  You can ask what the rules are, how to play, what happens if someone does X or does Y, and the object of the game.  Remember to ask in an excited voice and not with a concerned tone. This will not only clue you in on the parameters of their play, but also show that you are interested in their world.  Once you have established this common ground, you can start modeling appropriate social interactions.

When modeling social skills with your teen, it’s important not to draw attention to him/her or single them/their behavior out.  You can still provide correct social responses without having to point out the error.

As an example: Your son/daughter walks in the kitchen, with his friend following behind.  Your son/daughter grabs a soda from the fridge, shuts the door, and starts to leave without offering his friend one. Don’t: “Benny, you need to ask your friend if he wants a soda too. That was rude.” DO: “Chris, would you like a soda as well? If Johnny is thirsty, I’m sure you are too!”

The correct response here allows you to demonstrate to your teen that if he is thirsty, others may feel the same as well.  It provides an example on how to be polite, without making the child feel like he is being scolded in front of his friend.  You can also redirect the focus from your teen by focusing instead on the emotion present.  As an example:

You and your teen are at the beach with a friend and his/her teen.  Your teen skips up to you, unknowingly knocking over their friends sand creation in the process.  DO: “Chris (the friend), you look upset because your castle got knocked over.  You were working hard on that, and I can tell you are upset. Maybe we can help you rebuild it!”

In this example, the emotional context is still being addressed, an appropriate action is still being offered, but there is no blame or focus on someone’s mishap.  Using “we” when offering to help rebuild the castle also allows for another opportunity to work as a team together, and shifts the focus from a blame (“you need to fix his castle”) to working together on the solution.

Lastly, parents can practice their social skills at home.  Practicing with partners or relatives can be very effective modeling.  They are many instances when adults use very subtle cues to express what they are feeling, that may be missed by a teen with ASD.  Compare these examples:

Example 1:

Mom: “Dan, we are almost out of milk, eggs, and we don’t have anything for lunches this week.” Dad/Dan shrugs his shoulders.  Mom: “Well, Dan, I got the groceries last time, and the time before that”.  Mom then stares at Dan/Dad with her hands on her hip and a scornful look on her face.  Dad/Dan is silent for a moment.  Dad/Dan: “I’ll go tonight …” with a huff.   

Example 2:

Mom: “Dan, I’m feeling frustrated that I have to get groceries every time, and I think it would be fair if we took turns and shared the responsibility.” Dan/Dad: “I’m sorry that you’re frustrated and I apologize for not helping out more.  We should be taking turns and sharing the responsibility.  I will go get groceries tonight since you got them the last few times.”

Example 1 uses a lot of emotional cues, body signals, and gestures that may not picked up, where as Example 2 provides a narrative that better describes what each partner is feeling and what the appropriate social rules are.  Of course this change in language is hard to do all the time, and that is not expected.  But recognizing the more subtle emotional language used, and taking time to expand it to provide more clarification can provide great modeling examples for your teen when at home or with family.

Final Note:

On a final note, if you need more help knowing what to do, reach out to your child’s therapist, or behavioral interventionist.  What techniques do they use? What patterns have they seen? What are they currently working on in regards to social skills.  You can even ask to shadow a session.  Working on the same goals and using the same approach will help create consistency, which helps both your child and the therapist or interventionist working with them!

Vanessa (16)

    Vanessa Lemminger M.A. LMFT 53937
Marital and Family Therapist


© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Featured on Xcite Steps: “Making the Most of a Social Outing”

Head on over to Xcite Step’s website to read my latest article on making the most of a social outing, for parents of children with ASD!

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Vanessa Lemminger, M.A., LMFT 53937
Marriage and Family Therapist


Helpful Strategies for Redirecting Behavior at School

Helpful Strategies for Redirecting Behavior at School

By: Vanessa Lemminger, M.A., Marriage and Family Therapist 53937

1. Giving a task/ Helping others: Sometimes giving a task to a child or asking them to help another child can redirect their attention without having to draw attention to the negative behavior that is occurring.

For example:

Elizabeth and Elle are participating in art, and are playfully trying to poke each other with their glue sticks.  Teacher: “Elizabeth, could you help me show the class how to glue the circles on the paper in the right place? The other classmates may need your help, and I know you are really great at gluing!”

Another example:

Charlie is having a hard time sitting in his seat for art and is jumping around the area distracting other students, and needing constant reminders to stay seated.  Teacher: “Charlie, can you be my special art helper? I need someone to pass out the green paper and the markers to the class!”

2. Separating students: There are times when two children’s energy levels, temperament, and/or personalities may create an intense combination that distracts them from their work.  Finding a positive way to separate the children can help decrease behavioral issues while maintaining a positive tone in the classroom.

For example:

Kids can be grouped on a table in a pattern of boy-girl-boy-girl, or color (kids with blue on can sit at the table on the left, where kids wearing green sit on the table to the right).  Kids can also be grouped by counting off numbers.  All of these examples provide ways to re-arrange energy levels in the class without drawing attention to a specific child or behavior. 

3. Give choices that are positive: Always using “no”, “don’t”, and “can’t” can leave both a teacher and student frustrated.  Reminding children of the positive choices available can help the child pick an appropriate action, without drawing attention to the negative behavior.

For example:

A child is using the Lego creation he made as a pretend weapon, which is against school policy.  Teacher: “John, I see that you put a lot of effort into what you just made.  I know that using pretend weapons at school is against the rules, and I don’t want to see your creation taken away. Let’s think about what your creation could be! It could be a magic wand, a fishing pole, a rocket, or maybe a skate board!”

4. Ignore attention-seeking behavior: Consequences are a natural part of life and a very valuable lesson, however when dealing with attention-seeking behavior, automatically responding with consequences, or even any type of attention, will only reinforce the behavior.  When noticing a behavior is occurring for attention, do not make eye contact with the child, do not change your posture, and continue operating as normal. When the child has finally stopped the negative behavior or is behaving appropriately, then it is important to give them your attention and address them, thus providing reinforcement for the positive behavior displayed.

For example:

David is jumping up and down, saying the teacher’s name over and over to get her attention.  The teacher has a firm rule about raising a hand to indicate a desire to speak.  The teacher ignores David, continuing to talk over his loud shouts and only addressed the children listening.  After a long 10 minutes of David’s jumping and shouting, David eventually gives up.  David sits on the ground with the class and is quiet.  The teacher immediately turns to David, giving him eye contact, and states: “David, thank you for joining the class and listening.  Would you like to ask a question about the book we just read?” Always remember, only reinforce behavior you would like to see continue.

5. Give children chances to earn.  Mistakes and accidents are a common occurrence for children.  It is important for children to learn the consequences for their actions.  It is also important for children to learn they have the ability to turn their day around.  Making a mistake early in the day without having any opportunities to earn back privileges or reinforcement will only lead to more negative behavior.  Giving children chances to earn back privileges will give them the message that even if you make a mistake, you can still make positive choices throughout the rest of the day.  Stickers, praise, and earning back toys or privileges are great reinforcements to use with children when they are able to bounce back from a challenging morning.

For example:

Anton got in trouble for using markers to color on his classmate.  The consequence was that he was not allowed to use the markers for the rest of the day.  The teacher is aware that the last art project of the day involves using markers to color Anton’s favorite animal: a tiger.  The teacher knows Anton will be disappointed when he is not allowed to use the markers and participate in the activity.  Later in the afternoon, the teacher noticed that Anton was sitting very quietly during circle time, and raised his hand for every question he had.  After circle time, the teacher approaches Anton: “Anton, I know you had a challenging morning, and we lost the privilege to use the markers.  However, I noticed that you were able to turn your day around, and you listened very well during circle time.  I saw that you had a calm body and raised your hand.  That was a great way to turn your day around, and I am very proud of you.  If you can show me that you can use the markers appropriately, I will let you earn them back for our art project later.”

6. Create a safe break spot: It is difficult to calm down, reflect, and decrease energy levels when still engrossed in a chaotic environment.  Having a safe and calm space for children to “take a break” in, is a great way to allow children the opportunity to calm their physical state and disuse any high energy they may have.   Break spaces are a positive spin on a “time-out”, and are effective for adults as well.  The key to an effective break space is in its creation.  A break space should be partially secluded from the main room, having 1-2 partial walls.  Partitioning off a break space can reduce noise and create a softer light in the break area.  Great materials for a break space include pillow, mats, or soft textures.  Items can be placed in a break space, such as a few books, or a sensory item like a “squishy ball”.  Having water available by the break space is also a great suggestion. It is very important that the break space is not referred to as a “time out” or used with a harsh tone.  Taking a break should be a positive choice a child makes and is a self-care choice.  Appropriate ways to suggest a break include:

“Samantha, you look like you are getting frustrated at David.  Would you like to take a break?”

“Ella, I noticed you were having a hard time paying attention during circle time.  Would you like to calm your body and take a break?”

“Julia, instead of throwing your project on the floor, you can say, “I am frustrated and need a break!”  Then I will know that you need a break in the break space.

© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.