4 Styles of Conflict That Kids Should Know About

 Uplift cofounders Jon Ogden, Amanda Suarez, and Michelle Larson had a conversation about conflict. Jon interviewed Amanda (a school psychologist and conscious parenting coach) and Michelle (a marriage and family therapy associate).

Below is a transcript of the conversation.

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Jon: Today, we’re talking about conflict. It’s this week’s featured lesson. And we’ll start with a quote from Christine Carter who’s an author with a PhD.

She discusses the developmental importance of conflict. She says, “conflict is entirely necessary for intellectual, emotional and even moral growth.”

“Conflict between children,” she says, “is like the air they breathe. Research shows that when kids are playing, they experience about one conflict, every three minutes.

She adds that learning positive conflict resolution brings loads of benefits to kids, boosting their academic performance and increasing self-confidence and self-esteem.” In other words ,conflict is helpful and necessary and when kids learn how to deal with conflict in a healthy way they have many benefits in their lives.

Because of this, we focus a lot of this lesson on styles of conflict. We look at four different styles: fight, flee, freeze, and face.

So fight is when we’re combative and we’re certain that we’re right, and the other person is wrong. Flee is when we avoid it completely. Freeze is when we shut down or feel paralyzed. We get walked over. And face is when we state what we want and allow the other person to state what they want as well.

So Amanda, how have you seen these styles of conflict play out in a school setting?

Amanda: All of those styles come up with kids in the school setting. But. Both at schools and in parenting at home, I think it’s important to see that when it comes to freeze or flee styles of conflict, those kids tend to get less relationship coaching than kids with a more aggressive like fight.

Style in conflict. So it’s good to notice when children are conflict avoidant or when they shut down and are constantly accommodating their friends’ desires and wants and needs. Those children need help with conflict just as much as an explosive child,

It all starts with emotional regulation and recognizing our feelings and then working with the feeling coming up. So that’s always the basis. In working with students with conflict resolution. It always starts with themselves, what feelings they’re experiencing, being able to identify ’em and then working with the feeling coming up.

Jon: Do you have any examples that come to mind? Like, what might a process look like?

Amanda: I’ll often work through a process it’s called PEACE the acronym PEACE. So the P is about pausing. And this is identifying emotions and emotional regulation.

It’s about taking a pause, about getting out of our emotional brain and into our thinking and problem solving brain. So this is always necessary before we go into try to do any kind of conflict resolution, is to pause and to be calm and to be ready to engage and to be relational before that happens.

And the E is about exploring the problem and letting each person describe what happened for them. And so prompts that go with E would be like, “Tell me what happened or I noticed that _.” And then letting the child respond with what was happening or just encouraging them, so they can each describe the conflict in their way. And the A would be asking questions. It helps with perspective taking. They ask each other questions about the problem and start to understand like, what are the needs that were coming up?

Where was the miscommunication? Where’s the misalignment? And then C is where we get into considering solutions. This is the problem solving part. Like how can we come to an agreement about this conflict we’ve had? And then finally, E is Establishing a plan, like how do we move on from this?

So that’s a structure that can be used when helping to coach kids on how to move through conflict. But again, rupture happens in every relationship, and it’s necessary and it’s important. But it’s the repair process that’s most important to create, resilience in friendships and relationships of all kinds.

I like the acronym and we unpack it in more detail in the lesson. I like that it has a component of mindfulness where you’re just observing what is before you move on to any plan.

Jon: Michelle, anything you’d like to add to that?

Michelle: There’s a quote from Diane Hamilton that’s in our lesson. She’s a Zen teacher, and it says, “Rather than relying on a thin idealized hope that we’ll one day just get along, we can approach conflict resolution as an art form that we’re privileged to develop and hone.” And I love this quote because especially with our children we can actually help them cultivate these skills.

When I was raising my kids when they were really young, I noticed that on the playground often, anytime there was a conflict, parents would come in and they would separate the kids. And I actually was raising my kids around my sister-in-laws and all their cousins, and I felt like we could actually let our kids be in the conflict a little bit longer because we weren’t worried, like we don’t know these people and we could talk about it and say like, Hey, let’s, should we, should we intervene? Should we let them work this out? And Amanda mentioned rupture and repair and We don’t have good relationships when there is no rupture.

We have good relationships where we feel that rupture, we feel the conflict, and then we have a pattern of actually feeling what it feels like to be on the other side of conflict.

Jon: Let’s talk about each of these conflict styles in a little more detail. So if a kid has a flee style of engagement, What would you do to help that kid?

Michelle: If a child has a flee or a freeze style when they’re in conflict the best thing to do is to gently engage them in the repair process to pull them in, to draw them in, to make sure they have a voice and to participate and to be able to see that they can actually handle the intensity of conflict.

Often kids when they flee or freeze, they feel like, this is too intense. My body cannot handle this, and they want to get out of the situation. So just learning that your body can handle the intensity of this. That’s the best coaching piece for kids who struggle to stay in a conflict.

Jon: That’s great. And then fight. Anything to add about a fight style of conflict?

Michelle: I think one thing I’ll add there is that when people are in fight, they often think that if the other person wins in that situation, then they lose. So actually helping a child step into the shoes of someone else can be a really good first step. What do you think was happening for them in this situation? What did you want and what did they want? And then actually, once they notice that, then you can come to a solution that’s win-win something where you know, both people’s needs are actually met.

But you can’t get to that step unless you actually understand the needs of the other person and realize their needs might be different than your own.

Jon: Yeah, that’s good. So you started by talking about the fight sale of conflict, and then you moved to talking about how the face style of conflict acknowledges the needs of both people.

Michelle: Yeah. And I think a huge part of this is getting curious. Getting curious about what are the physical sensations in my body? I might be feeling a little tight in my chest. I might feel like electricity in my arms. That might be a sign of fight. I might feel like numb. Then that person might notice. They might lean towards freeze or flee.

And then the next step is breaking that up from what’s happening physically to what’s happening emotionally. Wow. I’m feeling like shut down. I’m feeling a lot of intensity. So that’s the emotion.

And then that then leads to the behavior.

Sometimes people get the assumption that mindfulness is about still sitting and meditation in a formal sense.

Jon: What we’re describing here is mindfulness. It’s about remembering to observe what’s happening in the body, what’s happening emotionally. What things are arising? And then from that place of awareness, moving with greater intentionality.

It’s like being willing to apologize and being willing to stand up for what you want. It’s that combination and the more that kids can practice, the more they can not get walked over and also not walk over other people.

And this is a skill that we’re all developing all our lives because conflict arises in relationships that we care about. Anything else that you’d like to add? Either of you.

Amanda: Yeah. I also wanna add one more piece when it comes to kids because what we’ve described is, a lot of steps of really sitting with the feeling working with kids to coach them through conflict.

But sometimes a good question to ask kids is, what is the size of the problem? Because not every single conflict requires steps of conflict resolution. I’ve worked with students who, everything is a conflict. Like I wanted to be third in line. I wanted to use the pink crayon first.

Everything is a conflict. So teaching kids to question what is the size of this problem? And sometimes if it’s a small problem, ignoring might actually be the skillful thing to do. I think it’s a process. It’s like learning how to be in relationship. It’s complex. But sometimes asking, is this something that I can just ignore?

And it can be helpful for kids.

And whether a child is staying with that sensation and not addressing the conflict or whether they’re addressing the conflict, there’s discomfort either way. So I think helping, like normalizing discomfort, like yes, we feel discomfort sometimes. We need to do something with that. We need to go towards it and face it.

Sometimes we need to work on it in our own body. So just either way, a parent. Really helping a child feel the sensation, not just avoiding it. Now we have some options here. What are we gonna do with this? So, That’s an important skill for kids to learn.

And just adding one more thing to what Michelle said, normalizing also the vulnerability of asking for repair in a relationship, it’s not an easy thing to do, not for kids and often not for adults. So when we have scripts in our families can we have a redo or something that really normalizes being vulnerable and asking for a repair with the people that we love is really important.

Jon: Moments like that can be some of the most connecting in life. And I think it is a part of spiritual parenting to be able to say, we’re not gonna avoid conflict. We’re going to work through it. Because we know that when people work through conflict in a healthy way, they are closer to each other. And there’s this sense of connection and love that comes out of such situations, more so than being passive and just pretending it’s not there.

That can cause relationships to drift apart. And so by having this moment of repair, We can experience deep love in the home.

MIchelle: Yeah, I just wanna emphasize what you just said, Jon, because in the short term it’s really uncomfortable. Conflict is really uncomfortable, but the reward is that you have long-term connection.

So again, are we willing to go through that discomfort in the short term, to have relationships that are really healthy in the long term.

Amanda: Yeah. And that deep discomfort and intensity of conflict is actually what develops self-regulation, coping, resilience in kids and in our family relationships. And it’s messy.

Michelle: Yeah. Enjoy the mess. Get right in there.


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