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Kids been in a fight? Just make them apologise!

Supporting young people and teens to manage conflict can be a really tough process. In many cases, there are going to be some really big emotions at play, and navigating these is hard for the young person AND the parent.

As with most things in parenting, how we support our kids to navigate conflict often says more about us than it does what might be most helpful. Are you more submissive and likely to minimise the impact something has had on you (“It’s fine, don’t worry about it”) or are you more aggressive and demand you get what you want/need? Or somewhere more in the middle (assertive) where you can hold your boundary that you were hurt and be able to understand another’s perspective?

After all, if we as adults find it difficult to navigate conflict, it isn’t surprising that young people do as well! Here are some tips to help:

– Manage the emotion first. We’ve written a lot about this, but managing the emotion in a situation is always priority 1 before you can do anything else

– Listen to what they have to say. Try to “hear through” the facts and listen for what sits underneath the conflict. Did they feel rejected, neglected, hurt, dismissed, minimised, jealous?

– Do some problem-solving together. How do they want to look at navigating the situation? Do they need support to work out how to explain to the person they had conflict with, how they are feeling? Or do they need support to repair the relationship

– Help them to consider the other side. This is really tough, especially for younger kids who are still developing this capacity to imagine others’ perspectives. It is also really tough for teens who can be quite self-focused. Some possible theories about why the other person might have acted that way or what the other person might have been thinking/feeling can help them to consider that the situation might not have been as targeted as it seems.

So do we make kids apologise after all this? I suppose the better question is what is the point of an apology? It is really just a string of words. If delivered without any meaning, it remains a string of words. So the age-old wisdom of “forcing” kids to apologise might not be as helpful as focussing more on the step of how you can support your child to repair the situation. Sometimes the apology is inherent in what they aim to do for that repair, even if they can’t quite bring themselves to say it

This is general advice only – please get some specific support to address your needs. At ConnectEd Counselling and Consultancy, we believe that all families, and the communities they belong to, benefit from a little extra care and support. Whether the problems are big or small, we want to make sure everyone has the chance to feel connected – to themselves, to others and to their community. We offer counselling services to young people and families and have immediate availability. If you need some support, get in touch here:

(Written by Dr Matt O’Connor)

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