Conflict in Friendships and 10 Ways we Can Help our Children Manage Them

Human beings love to be together; we are pack animals and crave interaction, touch, friendship and mutual understanding. Look how many words there are for a group of people: tribe, community, friends, team, gang, family, society, clan, squad, crew, mob.

Without others life would be less fun, harder to survive and, of course, impossible to procreate. Even the deepest introvert, the shyest being, the most anti-social of us need other humans. But that does not mean that our relationships with them is always easy.

Another blessing we have on this planet is our uniqueness. We arrive here from a thickly branched tree of ancestry and plough our way through our own era, social setting, and life experiences. The diversity is joyous. We are all different but that doesn’t always bode well for harmonious relationships. Major design flaw, right?

In the best-case scenario, as adults we learn to absorb differences of opinion and can mostly intuit who we want to hang with and who does not feel like a good match in friendship. But we can also adapt and try to fit in and please people. We lose ourselves in what we think other people like and want. Conflict with family is tricky and harder to manage again. But sometimes we find ourselves coming up against people who do not align or a misunderstanding occurs. Personally, I hate conflict and will avoid it at all costs. It leaves me feeling shaken to the core and dismantles everything I thought I knew about myself. Or I’m so angry I cry and feel utterly powerless. Children regularly find themselves in conflict as they are learning emotional intelligence and that the world, in fact does not revolve around them. They are hard lessons and the memories and outcomes can form beliefs about ourselves that last well into adulthood.

So what happens when our differences or actions don’t align and become a problem? We are sometimes triggered into conflict and it takes some emotional intelligence and compassion to find our way through.

Firstly, our fight and flight mechanism interrupts any rational thought. This ancient reptilian part of our brain jumps into high alert, flooding our body with adrenalin and screams, ‘run’ or ‘lash out and save yourself’. When we ‘see red’ the blood flow literally pours into the eyes, releasing adrenal hormones. That’s why some deep breaths before reacting can restart the parasympathetic nervous system, guiding you back to the ‘rest and digest’ mode and the mind’s ability to slow down and consider the situation.

Secondly, we need the wherewithal to own our part in the conflict. The simple phrase ‘it takes two to tango’ is heavy with clues to acknowledging that blame cannot be dished out to one side. It’s not easy to hold in the lashes of blame, or to question our own part in the disagreement. I believe that in even seemingly clear-cut fights, each person has called that situation in somehow. In swallowing our pride and justifications, we can harness a power. It gives us wiggle room—if I got myself into this, then I can get myself out. It also means that we don’t fuel the fire, giving the other person a reason to hit back and create mounting tension. It takes strength of mind to find compassion and acknowledge the other person is hurting or reacting from wounds. It takes presence and practice to tap into the delicate humanness of them.

Of course, a conflict can go on for days, weeks or if you’re an entire country, centuries. After a falling out, we need to lick our wounds and regroup. Talking to a trusted friend or family member can help hugely. Not only can they provide comfort but also different perspectives and maybe a way forward. Sometimes reconciliation with a third-party is the only route to resolution.

An argument has the power to make us crumble and doubt ourselves, so it also helps to have a firm belief of self-worth. This is like an armour that protects and deflects. It can allow us to still feel whole afterwards.

Wherever you are in the conflict, your triggers hurt but it can be an opportunity. What is the wound that has been reopened? What is the story around that wound? How can you heal it and avoid future incidents reopening it?

For children, these ideas are too complicated and deep to explain. By consciously dealing with our own conflicts, we can model healthy responses. We can also give them firm foundations and some simple tools to use.

1. If we can teach them to recognize their strengths, and stand firm in their self-worth, it’s easier to find courage and not engage in stories of low self-esteem. This gives them resilience when any friendship dynamics become painful.

2. Encourage acceptance and show them that diversity gives our life colour, new knowledge and adventure.

3. Teach them to use ‘I’ statements. This stands them in their power and lessens the conflict’s time-span by them owning their feelings.

4. Talking of feelings, they are always our guide. Teach children to name them and process them.

5. Show them how to be kind; to themselves, each other and the earth. Arguing and being kind are a bit like oil and water.

6. Finding something good in the other person teaches empathy.

7. Breathe, count to 10, walk away, go for a run, be in nature are all ways of calming the nervous system and allowing their bodies and minds to come back into alignment.

8. Teach them to listen using eye contact and repeat back what the other person has said.

9. Ask them how they want the situation to look. Allow their inner wisdom to come up with a solution.

10. Provide them with a safe space where they can talk about it. Often a problem just needs to be aired, shared and validated.

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