Is Conflict Always Bad?

By Nancy Rahimi

If you spend any time around young children, you are
bound to see plenty of disagreements. Conflict may
be irritating, but in and of itself, is not bad. It is healthy.
If multiple people are sharing the same space, and they
are each doing what they believe is right, there will be
conflict.

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Conflict between children is actually a good thing. It is a
very powerful learning tool. It helps children to develop
thinking skills, and to gain a sense of understanding of
their world. Through conflicts they learn about cause and
effect, develop perspective-taking abilities, and practice
emotional modulation. Experiencing negative emotions
(anger, sadness, frustration, disappointment, fear, etc.) is
a positive and necessary part of development. Learning to
recognize and manage emotions in a productive manner is
an important task of childhood.

Often a child’s first instinct is to act out physically, but
with coaching and role modeling, they can soon master
a variety of approaches. Children pick up many skills
by observing the adults around them. When you resolve
conflicts in calm, peaceful ways, your children watch and
learn. When you appreciate the differences in others and
verbalize varying perspectives, you help them to see that
there are many different ideas in the world. When you
give them attention for making pro-social choices, you
motivate them to try that approach another time. When
you offer them choices, they learn that life holds options.
And when you stay calm in conflict, they gather strength
from your presence and are better able to apply their
developing skills.

During conflict, children learn to clarify their ideas,
communicate more clearly, and identify their values.
Disagreements help children discover who they are
compatible with, who they admire, and whose company
they might enjoy. Through conflict, children also
discover that there may be more than one answer to any
single question. Practice with problem-solving prepares
children to look for solutions, consider options, and
navigate the ever-changing, ever-challenging world they
live in. Learning to deal with confrontational situations
as children makes it possible to deal with more difficult
situations as they age. This type of experiential education
makes it possible for children to learn why “my way or the
highway” just doesn’t work as an effective problem-solving
method.

While your first instinct may be to want to jump in and
stop a conflict from occurring, next time you sense a
nonviolent argument brewing, you may shout a silent
hurrah that a vibrant educational moment is occurring.
In the following books, you will find more information on
conflict resolution and facilitating problem solving.

  • Pick up your socks… and other skills growing children need.
    A practical guide to raising responsible children
    by Elizabeth Crary
  • I want it my way. Problem solving techniques with children 2 to 8 by Sue Dimwiddie
  • Emotional Intelligence. Why can it matter more than IQ by Daniel Goleman

Nancy Rahimi is a mother of two, family coach, parent educator and Director of Carlmont Parents Nursery School in Belmont.