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Interview with a psychologist

Conflicts between children: how to teach the child to defend themselves?

When getting into kindergarten or school, the child is at the beginning of their learning path on how to communicate with peers. Due to that, they are inevitably faced with the fact that their interests may not coincide with the interests of other children. This gives rise to a conflict which even a school pupil and a teenager does not always manage to resolve properly.

We will talk about how to teach a child to stand up for themselves in this article, as well as on the ways to get out of a conflict situation and whether parents should intervene if their son or daughter cannot face the bully on their own.

Contents:

Conflicts between children

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Children can face disagreements with their peers at any age.

Babies and preschoolers

At the age of 2-3 years old, conflicts between babies can arise due to the following factors:

  • awkwardness when one child accidentally pushes another;
  • desire to possess someone else’s toy;
  • “territory wars” (the child is playing in one space and does not let anyone else in there).

It is impossible to predict the occurrence of such situations. Therefore, parents should be particularly careful when going for a walk or to the playground in order to prevent a quarrel in time.

The most common reasons for quarrels at the age of 4-6 years old are the following:

  • envy of others’ successes;
  • jealousy of the attention of an adult;
  • resentment against a peer for not sharing a toy or candy.

At this age, preschoolers can often provoke conflicts themselves, by attacking and using physical force.

Elementary school students

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In the elementary school age, the reasons for disagreement between children remain the same as in kindergarten. What is added is the thrive for good grades and teacher’s trust, as well as displeasure for those children who are somehow different from others, for example, those who wear glasses or have problems with being overweight.

Children often begin to come up with offensive nicknames and tease the “outlier”. This happens both in order to attract attention towards the bullies and amuse others, as well as due to the desire to assert oneself at the expense of the weaker children.

Teenagers

The desire to humiliate an opponent to highlight their own importance is heightened in adolescence.

Many are faced with such a phenomenon as bullying which can occur both in real life (as in the movie “The Ant Bully”) and on the Internet (this phenomenon is called cyberbullying).

As a rule, the victims of bullying are quiet and shy children who do not know how to fight back. Bullying can be caused by anything that distinguishes the child from their peers.

If at the age of the primary school, bullying is limited to inventing offensive nicknames and teasing, teenagers may even use physical force against the “victim”.

As real-life examples show, moralizing conversations with the ones who initiate bullying are most often not very fruitful. If adults do not intervene in the situation in time and do not end the conflict, this can lead to quite serious consequences.

In addition to simple bullying, disagreements between teenagers can be caused by the following:

  • competition for the attention of a boy or girl that a child likes;
  • trying to win the trust of a reputable teacher or coach;
  • the desire to have a certain status in the group.

As we’ve already stated, any conflict between children must be resolved. However, what are the best ways to do this? Is it worth reacting to the offenders or is it better to resolve issues through talking?

Let’s discuss this aspect in further detail.

Teaching the child to protect themselves

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What is better — to stand up for yourself or to fight back?

Many parents (especially dads of boys) tell their children: “You have to be able to stand up for yourself”. However, in most cases, they do not specify exactly how the child should do this, sometimes even by implying the use of physical force.

Let’s figure out what stands behind the concepts of “defending yourself”, “fighting back” and “standing up for yourself.”

Protecting yourself means setting a barrier and showing confidence and ability to resist bullies. In order for the child to be able to do this, parents must prepare them for potential conflict situations psychologically and explain how to behave in the right way, depending on the circumstances.

For example, if the child’s deskmate calls them a greedy person, they don’t have to hit them on the head with a textbook or use their fists right away. However, if they extort money from them or, together with other boys, begin to persecute and humiliate the child, the reaction should be completely different.

Ways to come out of a conflict situation

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In order for a child to acquire the necessary skills and experience of communicating with people around them, they need to learn how to resolve conflict situations. It is true that at a certain stage of development, parents can do this for their children. However, in the future, they will need to find a way out of an acute situation on their own.

Let’s discuss the following main ways of resolving conflicts that are available to children:

1. Rivalry

If a child chooses this strategy, it means that they will defend their interests until the end and by all means available to them, even through using physical force.

2. Shifting away from the conflict

The child or the teenager refuses to enter into a dialogue with the offender and does not seek to fight back.

3. Compromise

The path of compromise involves the desire to come to an agreement with the opponent, sometimes with the help of deception and flattery.

4. To even the conflict out

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The child sacrifices their own interests in favor of the opponent by, for example, giving away their toy or sweet.

5. Relationship disruption

This involves the interruption of all communication with the opponent and a display of deep resentment and hostility. This strategy is often used by preschool children.

6. Cooperation

The path of cooperation with the abuser demands a strong behavioral culture and developed communication skills from the child. This strategy presupposes negotiations and involves a joint search for solutions and constructive conflict resolution methods.

The main task of the parents is to inform the child about all the methods of stepping out of the conflict situation and discuss it with them in detail.

The choice of a specific strategy of behavior will largely depend on the situation itself and on the child’s ability to assess the threat upon them.

It would be foolish and unsafe for first graders to defend their property or use physical force if they get attacked. Nevertheless, at the same time, it is worth reacting to the neighbor boy who extorts money from younger children. If the child cannot do this on their own, they must definitely explain the situation to adults.

Does the child need to be taught to fight? Arguments for and against it

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As we have already found out, conflicts are inevitable in the child’s life. With that, they must surely learn how to solve them in order to gain confidence in themselves and their own strength.

It’s not a secret for anyone in our society that a popular way to resolve all acute situations involves using fists. Even the expression “fight back” implies the use of physical force and not a verbal defense.

So, is it worth teaching a child to defend themselves with their fists? Parents’ opinions are often diametrically opposed with regard to this matter.

We have decided to consider all of the arguments “for” and “against” this matter.

For:

  1. A child that possesses the elements of self-defense, will be able to defend themselves in any situation, including when getting attacked.
  2. A schoolchild or teenager will feel confident in their own abilities in any acute situation.
  3. If a child practices wrestling as a sport, it has a positive effect on their health, endurance, and discipline.

Against:

  1. With getting used to involving physical force, the child will consider this method as the only possible way of resolving the conflict.
  2. By giving a son or daughter the “go-ahead” to use physical force, parents do not take into account the fact that the child will use it in relation to everyone, including their weak opponents.
  3. The child can inflict severe physical damage on someone, for which their parents will have to be held accountable.
  4. There are often cases when a child does not take the physical capabilities of the opponent into account. As a result, they turn out not to be the strongest ones, and therefore, your son or daughter may be injured.

As we can see, there are more arguments that are “against” than “for”. Therefore, it is important for parents to teach their child a simple rule: if you are hit, you need to protect yourself, but you should never start fighting first, especially with girls and those who are weaker than you.

What to do if the child cannot defend themselves in an argument?

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Parents are often saddened by the fact that their child seems to know all the ways to resolve conflicts, however, they can become confused and not be able to fight back in a tense situation.

They may be several reasons for that:

1. Psychologically unstable atmosphere in the family

If the dad often insults and humiliates family members, and they, in turn, cannot protect themselves in any way, the child will develop a victim’s position that will be then consolidated. As a result, in the event of manifestation of aggression from other people, they freeze and are unable to defend themselves.

On the other hand, it may occur that a strong-willed and self-sufficient mother does not give the child the opportunity to resolve the conflict situation on their own, preferring to take matters into her own hands and standing up for their son or daughter.

In both cases, children can live with the “I am weak, I cannot defend myself” attitude for many years.

2. The child’s particular character traits

It is more difficult to confront vulnerable and shy children in conflict situations.

Read more Why children are shy and how to help them overcome shyness?

3. Parent behavior

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The child may see that parents cannot defend their own rights. For example, when neighbors are listening to loud music at night, and mum and dad prefer not to pay attention to it, instead of going to talk to them or calling the police.

4. Wrong parental judgment

A child is taught that “it’s not good to be greedy, you need to share with everyone” and that “only bad boys and girls fight”, right from their childhood.

As a result, when a child is faced with someone attacking their property or with physical aggression from their peers, they subconsciously fear their parents’ condemnation and do not take any action.

We have named and discussed all of the reasons. We will now talk about what parents should do to help their child to gain more self-confidence.

How to help the child?

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  1. First of all, the child should feel that you are on their side and that you are always there for them. Do not scold or shout at them as this will lead to an opposite result, with the child feeling even weaker and more helpless.
  2. Explain to your son or daughter that their interests are just as important as those of other children and that sometimes they need to know how to protect them.
  3. If the child is too young and they are not able to fight back when being attacked by other children, parents need to resolve the conflict situation on the playground or during the walk. After this, you will have to gradually give the child more independence in this matter, whilst observing and being ready to help them.
  4. Develop an algorithm of actions in case of conflict together with your child:
    • if it comes to issues with regards to a toy or other property, the child should say: “This is my toy, I have not finished playing with it yet. Give it back to me, please!”;
    • in case of physical aggression on the part of the other child, the following phrase will help: “I am in pain. If you do not stop doing this, I will no longer communicate with you and I will speak to adults about this”;
    • if the aggressor child continues to attack, it is worth stopping them, potentially with the help of a teacher or another adult.

These situations can be reinforced in a game or conversation on the topic “What will you do if …”, which involves discussing situations when a child is called names, attacked by hooligans, etc.

How should parents behave in the event of conflicts between children?

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If a child finds themselves in a difficult situation, the first impulse of the parents will always be to help and protect them and to punish the bully.

However, if you resolve all conflicts for the child, they will remain timid, fearful, and unprepared for adulthood. As real-life examples show us, it is also impossible to ignore the problems of a son or daughter, as the outcome can be very serious. So where is the golden mean for this?

Let’s discuss how parents can assist their children and what should not be done.

Early age

At this age, the child is learning to communicate with their peers and adults and does not always know how to protect themselves in certain situations. Therefore, parents should always be protective of the interests of the child, making sure that innocent playing on the playground does not turn into a fight.

Your actions in the event of a conflict:

  1. When spotting the beginning of a quarrel, go up to the kids and find out what the matter is.
  2. If a toy is taken away from your son or daughter, ask the child who took it to return it. If your child provoked the conflict themselves, explain to them that this is not good and have them return the toy.
  3. If the quarrel is connected with the desire to sit in that beautiful car or ride this fun slide, try to distract the child’s attention by saying “The slide is busy now, you need to wait a bit. In the meantime, you and I can go to see the little ducks and feed them”.
  4. If you notice that another kid is trying to initiate a fight with your child, come up to this child and explain to them in a calm tone that they are acting in a wrong way, and you do not allow aggression towards your son or daughter.
  5. If a fight broke out, separate the kids, calm them down and bring your child home.

What should not be done:

  • defending the child’s property in an aggressive manner, by taking it away from other children;
  • screaming at the bully child and their parents;
  • standing aside when children start to fight.

The child learns to behave in the right way in the future by observing how their mother handles the situation in a calm manner.

Preschool-age

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The older the child becomes, the more they learn about the world around them and the relationships between people. They also gradually learn to resolve tense situations on their own, without the help of their parents.

Your actions in the event of a conflict:

  1. Having learned about a quarrel or a fight between a child and their peer, try to find out about what happened not only from the child themselves but also from the teacher.
  2. Find out from your son or daughter what they think about the conflict, what are their feelings with regards to that, and whether they think that it was possible to act differently in this situation.
  3. Try to convince the child of the need for reconciliation with their opponent.

What should not be done:

  • threatening the offender, for instance, with the uncle policemen, the terrible monsters, etc;
  • expressing your dissatisfaction to the kindergarten workers by telling them that they did not prevent the conflict between the children;
  • declaring the child guilty of a quarrel and scolding them publicly without fully understanding the situation;
  • calling a son or daughter a weakling who is unable to fight back.

It will be useful to spot various options for the progression of conflict situations from cartoons and books together with the preschooler and to discuss what they think about this.

Elementary and middle school age

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School conflicts can be provoked by reasons that may seem insignificant at first, for example, someone pushing someone, not letting someone copy homework off their notebook, and calling someone offensive names. However, the consequences of such conflicts can be very serious, and if they are not resolved in time, the child may subsequently develop complexes and serious psychological problems.

Your actions in the event of a conflict:

  1. Monitor your child’s physical and mental well-being very closely. If they become anti-social, depressed, or often seem to live in a virtual world – it’s time to get concerned.
  2. Find out the reasons for your child’s disagreement with peers. If they do not want to talk about this with you, ask their grandmother, brother, or someone with whom the child has a close and trusting relationship, to talk to them.
  3. If a child is being bullied or if their classmates are extorting money from them, have the class teacher or supervisor involved, as well as the parents of the aggressors, in order to solve the problem. Do not ignore the issue.
  4. Be on the side of your child. If they are the aggressor in the conflict, try to explain to them that their actions are wrong in a calm manner. Tell them about the consequences of such behavior.

What should not be done:

  • ignoring conflicts at school;
  • complaining to the teacher or director at the slightest disagreement between the child and their peers;
  • shaming the child for not being able to stand up for themselves.

Make sure your child is not bullied at school and that they have no problem communicating with their peers. Always be informed of where they are at any given time and where they were during the day, listen to what is happening around them and get hold of them quickly with the Find My Kids app.

Adolescence

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Children at this age are very sensitive to conflicts, especially if a teenager is faced with bullying. Serious disagreements with peers, teachers, or parents can lead to nervous breakdowns, depression, and in severe cases, provoke suicide attempts. To prevent this, parents should monitor the psychological state of the child very carefully and provide timely assistance in solving acute situations.

Your actions in the event of a conflict:

  1. Teens rarely tell their parents about their fights and disagreements with their peers. If you suspect that your son or daughter is going through a conflict, try to calmly ask them about what happened. Listen to them carefully and without interrupting.
  2. Ask what the teenager thinks about the situation and what steps they took to resolve it. Develop a joint plan of action to end the conflict.
  3. Make it clear that you are always on the side of the child and that you can protect them if they ask you to.

What should not be done:

  • pointing out the child’s mistakes and lecturing them. Most likely, they already understand that they did the wrong thing. Do not aggravate their guilt;
  • imposing their help in resolving the conflict. In some cases, the situation is serious and this is really necessary. However, when the mother of a 15-year-old deals with the neighborhood boys because they tease her son, it looks ridiculous. By doing this, you will not help the child in this way, but you would rather only aggravate the problem;
  • assuming that the teenager will resolve the conflict situation on their own as they are not little kids anymore;
  • encouraging the child to start fighting with their fists. In this case, in addition to aggression, it will also be unknown who will be stronger, your son or a group of angry teenagers.

7 ways to teach the child to resist aggressors

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As we have already specified, it is almost impossible to protect a child from all conflict situations. Therefore, it is important to teach them how to properly react to attacks from peers and how to not get confused and lost in a tense situation.

There are several ways to fight back the aggressor. Tell your child about them on your own behalf, or let them get familiar with them on their own.

1. Ignoring the bully, not paying attention to teasing and name-calling

Yes, it is really difficult. Especially when emotions are riding high and everything is boiling inside, and you just want to reply with something offensive.

However, the opponent, most likely, is waiting for this in order to annoy the victim and assert themselves at the other’s expense.

Tell your child that they need to keep calm and remain confident. To achieve this, ask them to imagine that they are under a glass cover, and that ridicule simply cannot reach them, or that an invisible hat is placed on the aggressor, allowing them to disappear.

2. Explain to the aggressors that they are not right in a calm tone

It often occurs that the aggressors do not expect to be faced with a strong response, therefore a confident and calm conversation may often be enough to put the aggressors in their place.

3. Do not react when being provoked

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You should explain to your child that they have the right to refuse to do something they do not want or dislike. Therefore, if someone forces them to try alcohol, cigarettes, or illegal substances, they will be firm in their decision not to do this, knowing that it is bad for their health.

4. Be ready to answer questions

Universal responses to teasers are passed down from generation to generation. You can use them, or you can come up with your own. The main thing is to pronounce them in a confident tone, with your head held high and looking straight into the eyes of the bully.

Such a psychological technique will discourage the aggressors and will take away all their arrogance.

5. Unusual behavior

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The bully will be very surprised if you act contrary to their expectations.

For example, if you smile and ask: “Why do you want to offend me?” Or: “Do you remember how you and I …?”

The main thing is to maintain self-confidence and not react to ridicule and name-calling.

6. Using self-defense techniques

If none of the above methods were sufficient, and the bully is already waving their fists in your child’s direction, you need to teach them to protect themselves. Self-defense techniques are taught during sambo, judo, or martial arts classes, or maybe through dad that can show some simple tricks. However, do not forget – your child must only respond to the blow, and not hit the opponent first.

7. Seeking the assistance of adults

Yes, your child is not Superman and they cannot solve all conflicts with brute physical force, especially if they have no such physical capabilities. Therefore, if the bully threatens them or uses violence, the best step is to seek help from adults, such as teachers, parents, or others.

These self-defense techniques are designed for both boys and girls. After all, girls have to endure ridicule and bullying from their peers no less, but sometimes even more. Therefore, parents should teach their daughter to be able to stand up for themselves and fight back all ill-wishers in case of a conflict.

Tips of psychologists for parents and children

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In order for a child to grow up into a strong and confident person, as well as to be able to behave correctly in a conflict situation, parents need to follow the rules of upbringing listed below:

  1. Teach your child to admit their mistakes and to be responsible for them. Yes, it was wrong to push the boy in the playground. Yes, they were really wrong to be greedy and not share a chocolate bar with their sister. The child must find the strength to admit that they are wrong and fix the situation. They need to apologize and offer to play together, or to give their sister a small handmade gift to say sorry. When your son or daughter accepts responsibility for their own behavior, they will become much more confident.
  2. Remember the basic rule: the conflict is resolved not only with fists. Calmness and a confident tone can discourage bullies from acting the way they are.
  3. An important skill in your child’s life will be the ability to say no. If a son or daughter does not want to do something that they are peer pressured into, they should not feel obliged to do so. It is good to be kind, but they should allow others to use their kindness.
  4. Have your child respond to ridicule and name-calling in a calm way. Explain to your child that verbal aggression, as a rule, is used only by weak personalities, to assert themselves at the expense of others. The best way out of this situation is to ignore the bully.
  5. The child should know that it is better to tell parents about their troubles right away. Let your son or daughter know that they can feel free to ask for help. Parents will always give the necessary advice, they will support and protect.
  6. Introduce sports into the child’s life. It will help them develop patience and stamina, as well as willpower and self-confidence.
  7. It will be useful for your child to learn to win over other people. Even the most notorious bullies can turn out to be a good friend and loyal companion. Encourage them to try to find common ground with them. Maybe they both have a hobby in common or they both love animals, for example.
  8. Conflicts, ridicule, and humiliation are, of course, unpleasant, but not fatal. It is important that the child learns to cope with negative emotions and does not react to acute situations too painfully.
  9. Talk with your child more often about their school and extracurricular activities. Display a genuine interest in their relationship with their classmates. Pay special attention to the psychological well-being of your child.

Conflicts are inevitable in a child’s life. Nevertheless, in order to learn how to resolve these situations correctly, using fists is not a must. It is enough to be a strong and self-confident person, who is able to defend their own opinion and not be led by the aggressors.

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