How to Help Kids Manage Social Conflict


    My sons fight incessantly. They argue over the most ridiculous things and, to be honest, sometimes I have to laugh. I used to try and referee a lot of these conflicts but I changed my strategy with them when they were about 4 or 5.

    They were old enough to talk it out on their own so I expected them to do so.

    Tiffs as social practice

    I do this for a few reasons:

    1. I hate refereeing.

    2. I want them to bond by being honest and open with one another about their feelings.

    3. Their father and I will not be there for the rest of their lives to help them through every conflict that will arise.

    I see their tiffs as social practice. I do not get involved in arguments but I do often guide their conversations just a bit in hopes that a lesson will emerge.

    For example, if they are bickering over a toy, I will often say, “Ask yourselves: is this toy more important to me than my brother?” and then I will send them away to work it out. 99% of the time they find a compromise on their own.

    Their father and I emphasize the importance of caring about others more than ourselves, and certainly more than material things. We teach them that in the home with the hopes that they will carry that with them into the world.

    I hope that they will stop and think, “Is this silly fight more important to me than my friendship with my classmate?” or “Does winning a game matter to me more than an actual person’s feelings?”

    When they are forced to consider what matters most, I hope that it is always people.

    Conflict v. Bullying

    Kid conflicts often seem trivial to us grown-ups but they are very real to them. Downplaying their feelings as trivial is not a great way to help them feel supported. In contrast, validating their feelings and then asking them to prioritize what matters to them is a way to give them the power in the situation.

    It is really vital, as well, that we are aware that some conflicts amongst kids can actually be quite serious and we should hear kids out before assuming that it is “nothing.”

    We read in the news all too often that children who were being bullied were ignored and then ended their own lives or ended up taking a dark path.

    With those fears looming, the inclination may be to get involved in even the most minor conflicts. Calling other parents and getting the school involved seems like a protective measure.

    However, if your child is not being bullied or he or she is not acting as a bully then a hands-off approach is often the best bet.

    Understanding what true bullying is may be helpful to you when trying to decide whether to get involved.

    Bullying: unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems. (

    Achieving balance

    The idea is to raise a kid who can handle social conflict independently. Our role as parents is to guide and support our children – not to steer them through life. This becomes increasingly true the older that they get and the more time that they spend away from you.

    So, here are some ideas for guiding them during times of conflict without getting directly involved:

    Suggest that they journal about what is going on and ask them if they would like to share what they have written with you. If they say “no,” respect their wishes.

    • Talk to them about a time that you had a similar experience. Don’t focus so much on how you solved the issue but more on just letting them know that they are not alone. Don’t pry but be readily available for them if they need you.

    • Encourage them to seek out literature, music, art, etc. which may parallel their problem and give them some insight. A great novel or poem about friendship may help a young person make personal decisions.

    • Try and give your kids perspective. As a kid, everything that is happening seems permanent. Help them understand that the situation will pass – but, again, try not to diminish their feelings in the process.

    • Go over actions or behaviors which are not options for dealing with conflict. Let them know, for example, that physical aggression will not be tolerated. Be sure to discuss bullying from both sides of the coin and let them know that you will not allow them to be bullied nor is it OK for them to bully anyone else.

    Am I making it sound easy? I know it isn’t.

    It is particularly hard when your kid is dealing with issues at school or in other areas of their life where you are not the main authority figure.

    While you may want to march down to the school and give some kid a piece of your mind, you have to use sensible and rational thinking in these situations because, as always, your kids are watching you to learn how to behave.

    Jessica Gray
    Jessica Gray lives in North Carolina with her husband and two little boys. She enjoys cooking, but she hates cleaning house. She's deeply passionate about kids and education - her experiences working with children as a teacher have been some of the most rewarding of her life. Writing has been a lifelong passion that started with notebooks, old scraps of paper, and journals. She loves to write informative and educational pieces for kids and adults.