Conflict with kids

conflict with kids

Your brain is an amazing thing. And your child’s brain is an amazing thing. But they are not the same amazing thing. Your child’s brain is different from your adult brain. When we fail to take account of these differences, we can make things harder on ourselves, especially in times of conflict with kids.

Same, but different

The main difference between an adult and a child is that your brain is finished (and I mean that in the nicest possible way). Your child’s brain isn’t done yet – it’s still on the way – so it might not always think logically like yours does. Also, kids do their brain development differently from each other, so it doesn’t help to compare your kid with other kids.

We feel frustrated when we’ve told the child a million times to do something and they haven’t; or if your child is having a meltdown because of a reasonable request. Perhaps you’re frustrated because you’ve explained or asked so many times and still it isn’t done. It’s easy to think your child is wilfully misunderstanding, pretending they don’t know what to do, or deliberately pushing your buttons. But it could just be that your child’s brain is immature. 

Here are three steps that might help turn the negative into positive.

Step 1: Take a step back

Take a step back from the situation. Calm yourself. Calm is contagious and it’s a good place to start. Then ask yourself : Is this a learning opportunity?

The ‘thing’ that triggered the situation might be something you expect them to already know. In fact, they may have known it last week, or even yesterday. This is why it’s important to take account of different brains. Your brain has had many experiences repeated over and over to get it to the place it is today, but your child’s brain is just beginning this journey. It is entirely possible your child needs to learn the ‘thing’ again today. 

Children rarely pretend to be stupid; they generally like to feel smart! So, this situation is probably as frustrating for them as it is for you. (And they may not have the vocabulary or life experience to rationalise why. They may not understand why you’re angry either!) 

Change your focus from expecting knowledge to imparting knowledge. It’s a ‘moment makeover’; from being a testing opportunity to a teaching opportunity.

Step 2: Take a step forward

The way to move forward is to pull together. If mother and child are on opposite ends of a tug-of-war, there will be a lot of movement but little progress. If mother and child are pulling together, they will steadily move forwards! A child is not equipped to ‘understand’ their mother in the same way that a mum can get alongside and try to understand their child, so this is your part.

Ask yourself these questions: What is it like to be my child in this moment? What is my child feeling? How can I help my child make sense of that feeling?

Step 3:  Step down (literally)

Get down to your child’s level, and have a calm eye-level conversation. Start with, “I love you”. Then get your child’s perspective by asking them some how, why, and what questions:

  • Ask HOW they feel? Can they name the feeling? Is it a good feeling or a bad feeling?
  • Ask WHY they did (or did not do) ‘the thing’? (They possibly won’t know the answer to this question; it might be too ‘big’, but encourage them to say it in their own words if they can.) 
  • Ask WHAT could help them do ‘the thing’ better next time? WHAT can they do differently? WHAT can mum do to help them do it?

(There are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers – just information to help you understand and teach you child most effectively.)

Finish with “I love you”.

Everyone will feel better if the encounter is treated as a partnership rather than a conflict! 


Two caveats:

  1.  I know what you’re going to say: “I can’t get through all that in the five minutes I have before I need to be out the door!” Point conceded. But there will be many occasions to practise conflict with kids, and creating learning opportunities when you can spare the time will make it easier for those times when you can’t. 
  2. You should know that I’m not an authority on brains! However I think these three steps sit pretty well with this article, The Key to Helping Your Child Manage Big Emotions by brain expert Dr Rebecca Bransetter.

Lexia Smallwood



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