Protecting our children from life’s stresses or social challenges is only natural; however, we need to ask ourselves whether a child really needs our protection, or if they need to be empowered with tools and techniques to effectively address such situations themselves.

Childhood challenges, whether from friends, neighbours, siblings or classmates, can be intense.  Differences can occur over the rules of a game being played, the ‘rights’ to a toy, or over unkind or bullying words.  When helping a child deal with these often uncomfortable situations, try approaching these as teachable moments, and as opportunities for them to develop greater confidence and ability with improved coping strategies for future challenges.

Often the adult’s initial inclination is to simply ‘fix’ the problem, by either directing the child on how to behave, or by asking others to brush the issue aside.  While these are relatively easy solutions for busy parents, they are only short term ‘patches’.  Later, when this or a similar issue reoccurs, the child is no more prepared than the first time around.

The role of parents is to help children develop a greater understanding of the conflict, the lead-ins and motivations behind the actions taken.  Children are never too young to start working on improving their conflict strategies.  They often recognize patterns of behaviour and circumstances more easily when younger, as they are not burdened by the ‘clutter’ of past experiences and response patterns.

Furthermore, parents need to remember that the ‘stakes’ get higher the older the child is, so postponing the early development of strong coping tools is actually doing the child a disservice in the longer term.  The consequences of ineffective interpersonal responses to social challenges become increasingly significant as the years pass, affecting adult relationships, both at home and in the workplace.

Some supportive strategies to help a child develop effective interpersonal skills and strategies include:

  • In a quiet, calm setting, ask the child to retell the details of the incident – the lead-up, the issue, the decisions made by each party, and how they felt at each stage, as well as the end result.  Discuss alternate responses to the problem.  Then role-play the whole situation over again, either together, or with the other party, to elicit an improved outcome.
  • Try reviewing the incident in terms of choices that each person made, and how they felt about the outcome of their choices.  Children need to know that dealing with choices is easy – if they don’t like the outcome or how they feel about a choice they made – the solution is simple – just make a different choice!
    It is important for children to know that they can easily change their
    minds and try a different approach!
  • It can be helpful to share your own personal experiences around a similar situation, as your modelling of a solution can provide a powerful image for children when they next meet a similar challenge.
  • Reading some stories about how some true or fictional characters dealt with similar stressful encounters will help a child to realize they are not the only ones experiencing these kinds of challenges, and to vicariously experience different outcomes.

We tend to underestimate our children who, when given loving support and opportunity, can be very capable at finding alternate corrective actions.

Our parenting objective is to raise strong, caring, and compassionate individuals who, from their early years, are developing a good understanding of human motivators and the associated emotions. Only by helping and supporting our children through their interpersonal challenges will they  develop a better understanding of themselves, and further improve their  response strategies for future challenges.

(Published – Oakville Today – Aug. 11, 2011)

Linda Sweet   M.S. Ed.

Founder and Director, Glenburnie School

Providing a progressive, innovative private school education   Preschool to Grade 8