At some point throughout their schooling years, children will experience problems with their school friends.

Have we not all been there?

Because of this, it is important to differentiate “normal” childhood conflicts and bullying.

Normal childhood conflict is characterized by both children having equal power where neither one is seeking control. They just happen to disagree. For example, when two siblings share a bedroom and do not agree on what color to paint the walls or when children bicker over who gets to go first, what game to play and fighting over the rules within a game.

It is important to keep in mind that not all hurtful behavior is bullying. Sometimes people can be rude or mean. Being rude is when someone inadvertently says or does something that hurts someone else and being mean is purposefully saying or doing something to hurt someone once or maybe twice. Whereas the act of bullying is continuously repeated and purposeful. Rude and mean behaviors are just a part and parcel of growing up and can be expected in children still learning to manage their emotions.

This can result in normal childhood conflicts, which is beneficial as it gives adults the chance to teach children important lessons about managing conflict with peers.

Here are some ways that we can help our child manage interpersonal conflicts:

  1. Model to your child strategies for managing strong emotions like frustration and anger. It is important for children to learn that yelling and being intimidating or physically hurtful does not help when resolving conflict. Show your child simple techniques such as deep breathing to remain calm when YOU become angry or frustrated.
  2. Talk to your children about using words and speaking calmly to resolve conflict, as well as the importance of hearing what others have to say. Work with your child to develop a phrase that will help them begin conflict resolution. For example, “let’s talk about this and see if we can find a way that makes us both happy”. This will assist your child in knowing what to say when a conflict occurs.
  3. Show your child how YOU problem solve using compromise and brain storming solutions with the aim of finding one that satisfies all parties. This will help them to think about common goals and consider multiple solutions to a single problem.
  4. Encourage fairness in your child through leading by example and talking about the benefits of being kind and sharing with others. Acknowledge proudly when you see them behave fairly. Sometimes young children experience problems negotiating rules of games and taking turns making decisions. Instead of forcing them to be fair, praising when they are being a little bit fair can reinforce their sense of ownership over the act of being reasonable and flexible.
  5. Show your children how to avoid making things worse with mean remarks or fighting and shouting. These types of behaviors only serve to escalate the problem.


Chiu Lau is Principal Psychologist at Possibilities Psychological Services, an award winning, multidisciplinary clinic for children, adolescents, adults and their families based in the heart of Sydney South.

She understands how difficult it can be, navigating various early intervention and mental health services, in order to determine the right one for your family. Book your complimentary 20 minutes chat with Chiu to explore options and possibilities here.


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Nada.Salem.

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