Disagreements are a part of life…especially in a time of turmoil, such as this year has been. Helping kids disagree respectfully is a key element of learning how to successfully handle conflict as an adult. Everyone has a right to an opinion. As parents, it’s extremely important that we give space for our children to learn how to be respectful of all opinions, regardless if they agree or disagree. By teaching our children to value the opinions of others and help them with coping strategies to engage in respectful, positive conversations, you are equipping them with valuable skills.
We know that conflict is present in all areas of life, and even more so right now. One element of maturing is gaining a skill set to have valuable conversations with others in a respectful way. Being able to work through differences peacefully and also with an ability to strengthen and deepen relationships with others is a lifelong skill.
As a mom of four with kids ranging in age from 27 to 10, I have had many opportunities for helping kids disagree respectfully by centering on the following areas.
It’s important, and truly even more so right now, to keep an eye on what your child is seeing on television or online. We have decided that, for the most part, we do not watch news in the presence of our ten-year-old. We actually adopted this many years ago, and it has served us well. To be honest, most newscasts are filled with negativity, and our children do not need to be exposed to that. I think there are other opportunities to discuss any relevant news happenings with younger children in a way that can benefit their understanding.
Encourage your child to be a good listener. Make sure you model that behavior by giving him your attention when he speaks to you. This is by far one of the most important things you can model in your home. Listening is a sign of respect and is an important skill for school, as well as later in life. Teach your child to really listen to what someone else is saying and try to understand their point of view. Don’t think about an argument for what they’re saying when they’re talking. You can even have practice sessions of this when you are having family conversations. Walk through the steps involved when having a conversation and how to listen carefully to what others are saying.
The dinner hour is one of our favorite times to talk about what is happening in the world, age appropriate, of course. Not only is family dinner time great for your child’s health and development, but it has also been linked to positive outcomes like a lower risk of obesity, better school performance, and higher self-esteem! YEP!! If you are not having family dinner together at least five evenings a week, why not? What you can do to change that? Dinner conversations are a great place to allow your child to express his or her opinions about local and world happenings as well as sharing ideas and respecting what others share. Doing so in a family environment is very valuable.
Have your child practice seeing things from other people’s point of view. This is one of the fundamental aspects of empathy, which has been shown to be important for a child’s success later in life. Empathy is to learn to give value to things that they may not be familiar with or have experienced, and that in itself is so valuable. I really like to take examples of situations, change the details surrounding the example, and allow my child to think of things from a different perspective. This allows him to see how something might feel if he thought or believed differently. This way, he can understand and learn empathizing skills, which I know we can all use practice in.
Be true to himself
It can be hard to listen to others and be empathetic but still hold true to what you believe. This is something we share often in these conversations, helping our son learn to be confident in what he believes. We remind him that just because someone else may believe differently does not give him the right to insult or demean them. This has been something we’ve discussed often, especially in the past seven months. We all have differing opinions on so many aspects of what is happening in our world. Our opinion is just that, an opinion, and we can be true to what we believe, yet respectful to others who believe differently.
You have the ability to help impact your child greatly in his or her development of great communication skills. Helping kids disagree respectfully is just one area. I know from my own experience that family dinner together is a powerful piece of that puzzle; I encourage you to make it a top priority.