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

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© 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.

 

 

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Dealing with Divorce as an Adult

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The Way They Were: Dealing with Divorce After a Lifetime of Marriage by Brooke Lea Foster

Brooke Foster’s book, The Way They Were: Dealing with Divorce After a Lifetime of Marraige is an essential read for adult children experiencing the pain of parental divorce.  In fact, Foster’s book may be* one of the only books on the experience of adult children of divorce.

Foster’s book explores the loss one experiences in adulthood when they are thrust into the often messy and painful experience of watching their parent’s relationship dissolve, and the expectation of how adult children are supposed to respond.

Foster’s book hits home for many adult children of divorce as she speaks of the “insignificance” many adult children feel.  She calls the book, “a guide to rebuilding relationships and forging ahead.  A place to feel reassured that your pain is real, that you’re allowed to hurt.”

The Way They Were: Dealing with Divorce After a Lifetime of Marriage is a compilation of stories, interviews, and experiences from several individuals who have experienced the pain, anger, and sadness of parental divorce in adulthood, with points to remember at the end of each chapter to summarize the important pieces to take home.

Foster’s book is a great read for those looking for reassurance that the pain they are experiencing is justified.  Her book provides connection and reassurance in the similarities of others experience, without watering down the pain each individual reader is experiencing.  Foster’s book is both therapeutic and educational, while also providing helpful strategies for navigating through the messy emotional process of separation.

The Way They Were: Dealing with Divorce After a Lifetime of Marriage can be found on Amazon.com in the paperback or Kindle version here!

   

   VaneVanessa (16)ssa Lemminger M.A., LMFT
Marital and Family Therapist

  

    


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© 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.

The Friend Who Cried Wolf

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The Friend Who Cried Wolf

We all have one.  You know, the friend that calls weekly (if not daily), hysterical over every dramatic event that happens to her.  Her meltdowns are like clockwork, having at least one “life-altering” crisis a week.  The first week it’s about the guy that she met at the bar the other weekend – you know, the one with the convertible? Well, he hasn’t returned her text in over two days, and even though she can’t even remember what his last name is, this could be her ‘Prince Charming’ and she is in full-on panic mode.  The week before last, her call was about your mutual friend Becky.  She can’t possibly believe that Becky has yet to return her favorite purple sweater that she borrowed, and she just knows you’re as frustrated at Becky as she is.  The nerve!  This week it is about her “completely unfair” professor whose test she failed, ignoring the fact that she frequently skips his class.

You start to regret answering her phone calls.  You cautiously even block a few of them.  It is hard enough to balance your own full plate while keeping your sanity, let alone help manage hers.  Then your guilt kicks in.  She has been your friend since middle school, and has been there through everything.  Regardless, the relationship is exhausting, and her behavior is pushing a wedge between you and what used to be your closest friend.

What you can do: Stop enabling her behavior.  If her text message reads: “Calling you in 5.  Just saw my ex and some girl at the movies … HOLDING HANDS!”, don’t answer her call.  Send a return text letting her know that you can’t answer the phone right now, but you can catch up this weekend over coffee and she can fill you in on the details later.  This can help shift your position from being on-call crisis counselor to supportive friend.  Another note: a true friend is helpful, supportive, and honest. It will not do your friend any good if you help her embellish the details of her most recent dramatic crisis.  What may seem like empathy is only creating a perpetuating problem.  Instead, help calm your friend.  You can be empathetic about what she is feeling, while also pointing out something positive.  Yes, that guy with the convertible didn’t text her back, but you can remind her of the new promotion she got offered at work, which will probably be taking up most of her free-time for a bit.

Don’t problem solve. It is great to offer reassurance, but it is important to leave the problem for your friend to resolve.  Developing problem-solving skills and learning how to appropriately manage anxiety are important parts of personal development.  Fixing your friend’s problems for them cheats them out of this important experience.  Communicate.  If the problem continues, it is important to articulate to your friend how you’re feeling.  Remember to be respectful and use “I-statements” (“I feel exhausted when …”).  Let her know that you value your friendship, and the distance that has developed between you is what concerns you the most.  You find more pleasure in being her friend that her therapist.  Encourage her to seek out additional support.  Finding a therapist can help your friend learn how to manage some of her anxiety or insecurities, and develop coping skills that she can use in the future.  It will not only benefit your friend, but your relationship together as well.

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

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© 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.

Talking to Children about a Diagnosis

Talking to Children about a Diagnosis

Dealing with a serious diagnosis, whether it be your own or that of a family member, is a difficult and complex process.  Having to break the news of the diagnosis to your children is even harder.  Most parents battle between preventing unnecessary anxiety and stress in their child’s life, and preventing their child the opportunity to take advantage of the time still left (in the case that the diagnosis is terminal).  Many parents wonder how much they should tell their child, if their child even understands what the diagnosis means, and fear the damage the news might do to their little one.

Despite what parents may fear about too much information, a good rule of thumb is to be as open and honest as possible.  Children have great imaginations.  When they are left with missing pieces or an incomplete story, they will fill the gaps themselves, which can be dangerous.  Even children as young as 3-years-old will wonder how exactly the pieces fit and start to fill the gaps.  Children are like sponges; they absorb immense amounts of information from the world that surrounds them.   They pick up information from the television, advertisements for medications and treatment, their classmates at school, magazines, overheard phone conversations, and their parents mood that day.   No matter how young your child is, they can tell the difference between Mommy’s mood when she is talking about Grandma who is “sick”, and when she is talking to the neighbor.  Thinking your child is too ignorant to understand what is going on will not do you any good.  A lack of communication and ambiguity about what is going on will also give your child the message that the topic is not to be talked about, discouraging your child from asking any important or bothering questions they might have.   Many times children are left with questions that go unanswered because they were too afraid to ask, and no one took the opportunity to talk to them.   Keeping an open line of communication with your children about the changes that are occurring will allow you to reassure your child of any fears they may have, relieve any unnecessary stress, and allow your children to express their love and admiration to whomever may be ill.

Once you are ready to talk to your children, there are several factors to consider and ways to approach the situation.  If there is a large age difference between your children, it may be best to talk to each child separately, which will enable you to use the correct, age-appropriate language that each child will understand best.   Different age groups will also have different questions.  You may not be prepared to talk with your 7-year-old about a question that your 16 year-old is wanting to know.  It is always important to remember that siblings talk as well.  If you are going to keep an older child privy to more information than a younger child, it is important to remember that some of those details might be unintentionally (or intentionally) divulged by the older sibling, which may leave the younger sibling feeling shocked, and hurt for being kept in the dark.

When approaching the topic with your teenager, it is best to find a time to talk where you know you will not be interrupted and you will have plenty of time should your child have many questions.  Do not sit down with your child to talk before something important like a basketball game they have later that night, or right before they are about to go out with some friends.  If your time is limited and you have to talk to them during a not-so-opportune moment, make sure you are willing to make some adjustments to their schedule or cancel any appointments should they have a hard time with the news.

When approaching the topic with your younger children, it might be helpful to get a feel for what they already know and understand about both the concept of illness and death, and also about the situation that has been going on (possibly they have an idea that something is wrong based on little pieces of information they picked up on at home).  A great suggestion for this is to have a family, “questions and answer” session.  Sit down with the entire family, and introduce the topic of illness.  Ask your children to tell you what they know about being ill, and see what responses you get.  That may give you a good base and language example to use when you reveal the news.  Then give each child some strips of paper and a pen, and have them write down all the questions they have. (Depending on the age of the child, a parent may have to write down the question for them as the child whispers it in their ear) Each child will place their questions in a big bowl, and the parents will take turns pulling out each question to answer.  The bowl will allow for anonymity, so the child is not afraid to ask a “stupid” or “wrong” question.  When you pick a question to answer, before you answer it yourself, ask your children if they know the answer to the question.  This will allow you to see what they understand first.   When you are finished, make sure to let your children know they can always talk about it and ask more questions as they come.  You can even put the bowl in a common area and let them know that if more questions come up later, they can put them in the bowl to be answered.  Always leave plenty of opportunity for your children to ask questions and talk.

Also, ask your children questions as well! Ask them how they are feeling.  Ask them what they want to do about the news (maybe they want to make the person a card or send some flowers).  Ask them how you can help them during this time.  Although this may seem like a obvious point, I am going to mention it due to the technological age we live in.  Under no circumstances should this be topic discussed over a text or an email.  It should always be discussed in person.  Lastly, do not feel pressure to know the answer to every question.  If there is question you do not have the answer to, let your children know you will ask an expert who does know.  If it is a question about the course of a disease, call the doctor with your children.  If it is a question about grief/loss, or emotions in general, make an appointment with your mental health provider.  As a parent, you do not have to have the answers for everything, but just the willingness to be there and help your child find the answers.

Vanessa Lemminger, M.A., LMFT 53937
Marriage 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.