Steps for Helping Foster Children Resolve Conflict
Published: September 12, 2018, at 4:59 a.m. PT
Last updated: July 1, 2020, at 5:25 a.m. PT
Conflict resolution isn’t easy – for children or adults. It doesn’t come naturally, either, and people typically need to be taught how to effectively resolve conflict. By teaching foster children methods for conflict resolution, you can instill positive emotional intelligence skills they’ll carry into their adult life. Practicing conflict resolution teaches kids how to listen to others, communicate, and think creatively to find solutions. It also helps them process and express their feelings and confidently state their needs, which are valuable for foster children’s mental health.
It can be tempting to resolve the conflict for them, especially when you’re busy. But if you’re able to practice conflict resolution with them whenever possible, it will benefit them now and in the long-term. The next time they fight with a sibling or friend, go through the following steps with each child involved to help them practice and learn conflict resolution.
Take a Break
Start by gaining some space from the problem. Go to another room or go for a walk to give them time to calm down. Find a quiet place where they can talk about what happened without distractions or interruptions. It might help to have them write down their thoughts and feelings.
Calmly Discuss the Problem
Ask them to tell you why they’re upset, and listen to understand rather than to judge. Encourage them to be honest about what happened and what role they may have had in the fight. If they’re still angry and focusing on what the other child did, tell them to use “I” statements to own their feelings, identify what caused them and what different outcome they would like to see: “I feel angry when he takes the ball away from me, and I would like for him to ask first.”
It’s important that you let them assess the situation and their feelings on their own. Once they’ve described the problem, you can help by summarizing the conflict in a few words.
Guide the child to think of solutions that would help prevent the conflict from happening again. They can write down their ideas, and the more they come up with the better. You can offer examples if they’re stuck, but try to avoid solving the problem for them.
Have them consider if they’d like to apologize to the other person. You might help them write down their apology, in which they should own their part in the problem, express regret, and lay out how they’d like to help fix the situation.
Bring the children involved back together to talk about what happened and find a solution. Before you begin, set ground rules, like everyone has a say and interruptions aren’t allowed. Give each child a turn to share their thoughts, and then have them share their ideas for a possible solution.
Guide a discussion of the plans for resolving the conflict. Ask them to consider how the solutions presented would impact themselves. Then encourage them to think about how they might affect others as well. Help them come to a solution that will work for them and others.
Once a solution has been found, praise the kids for having resolved the conflict together. Communicate the plan to any others who may be affected. Moving forward, keep an eye on their interactions to make sure they’re keeping to what they agreed to. You might follow up with each child individually to ask if they still feel good about the arrangement and see if they’re still sticking to it.
If the solution doesn’t work, and they continue to fight, you can try going through the process again. If it seems like they can’t get along, consider finding ways to give them space from each other for a while, if possible.