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How to Resolve Conflict Between Parent and Child


Typically, parent-child conflicts may revolve around power struggles, misunderstandings about safety, or a lack of empathy for the other’s point of view. Since young children are just starting to learn that others experience the same feelings they do, conflicts can quickly arise if they have yet to grasp this reality. However, it’s equally important to acknowledge that a child’s point of view, while it may be different, is still valid.


Fortunately, many psychologists believe empathy is both an innate characteristic and a skill that can be learned. With some basic strategies for parent-child conflict management, you can give your child compassionate, actionable tools for handling challenges in the years to come.

A life without kicking-and-screaming meltdowns might top every caregiver’s wish list. But the truth is that conflict is a healthy and necessary part of every relationship because it helps us strengthen bonds with loved ones in the long term. When learning how to solve parent-child conflict, it helps to have a few tools and calming strategies for kids on hand.


Typically, parent-child conflicts may revolve around power struggles, misunderstandings about safety, or a lack of empathy for the other’s point of view. Since young children are just starting to learn that others experience the same feelings they do, conflicts can quickly arise if they have yet to grasp this reality. However, it’s equally important to acknowledge that a child’s point of view, while it may be different, is still valid. 


Fortunately, many psychologists believe empathy is both an innate characteristic and a skill that can be learned. With some basic strategies for parent-child conflict management, you can give your child compassionate, actionable tools for handling challenges in the years to come.


#1 Consider Their Age

How a young child responds to a conflict (and what sparks conflict in the first place) often results from what stage of development they’re in:


  • Toddlers (Ages 1 to 3)  – Children at this phase begin experiencing strong emotions but don’t quite have the language needed to articulate them. Because of this, outbursts are common—though you might have to do some guesswork to know what they’re about.

  • Preschoolers (Ages 3 to 5) – Preschoolers continue to “meet” and learn more about their emotions. Outbursts are common at this age too, but many subside swiftly if caregivers can remain calm.

  • Middle-grade children (Ages 5 to 7) – Children at this age may still be learning that there are repercussions of their actions and behaviors. At this time, they may also begin holding grudges, extending the life of a conflict. Caregivers can help mitigate this by following up on interpersonal problems (we’ll look at this strategy below).

  • Understanding your child’s perspective based on their age won’t necessarily prevent a conflict, but it may provide you with some insight on how to best address their negative feelings.


    #2 Team Up With Your Child

    As a family, you ultimately want to arrive in a place where you and your child are feeling equally respected, understood, and cared for. You can help encourage this type of relationship by demonstrating how much you value them through physical “joining” exercises. 


    This could look like:


    • Laying next to them on their bed and acknowledging that, yes, sometimes you don’t want to go to sleep either—but you know you’ll feel much better the next day if you get some rest. 

    • Getting down on the floor of their playroom and noting that it’s hard to break away from fun things but that lunch will give them more energy for playing later. For example, you may say something like, “it looks like you’re working really hard on that block tower and I know you want to keep playing. But dinner is ready now, so let’s decide on a number of blocks we can add after we eat.” 

    This strategy is a way of recognizing and accepting their hurt and frustration. It’s also a way of saying, How can we solve and navigate this conflict situation together?


    #3 Find Your Center

    If you feel like flying off the handle when your child refuses to listen, you’re in good company when it comes to experiencing parental stress.


    But remember: a young person often reflects and mimics their caregivers’ moods and behaviors—a process therapists refer to as co-regulation, that involves the mirror neurons in our brains.  If you can tap into a sense of calm even as your toddler is mid-tantrum, they may be able to self-soothe and break out of it with greater ease. You can try:


    • Taking a few deep breaths
    • Walking into another room to ground yourself
    • Acknowledging when things grow too heated and suggesting a moment of self care for both of you: “We’re both upset right now. Why don’t we both relax for a bit?”

    When you feel as though your child is intentionally trying to be difficult or disrespectful, it’s important to approach the situation with compassion, rather than resentment. For example, if your kids become frustrated that they need to stop doing something they enjoy, remember that adults can experience the same feeling, meaning their behavior may be a way to validate their feelings.


    While self care for parents may look different than self care for kids, watching you regulate your emotions can help teach your children how to do the same.


    #4 Lean On Tools to Calm Them Down

    The word “conflict” seems to suggest a disconnection. If that’s true, then moments of conflict present an opportunity for you and your child to connect with your emotions.


    This is where social emotional learning tools can come in handy. Playful characters like Slumberkins’ Hammerhead teaches children how to take a breath when their mad feelings get really big, while Yeti teaches them to slow down and take deep breaths to regulate their bodies and emotions.


    #5 Define Safety and Family Systems

    Whether you’re insisting they take your hand to cross the street or explaining why they’re too young for a rollercoaster, sometimes conflict can surface (or explode) when you’re doing your best to protect your child.


    If an argument like this erupts, try using it as an opportunity to explain the different roles family members have—and that your main one is to shield them from harm. Try finding simple and clear ways to reinforce boundaries while also welcoming their feelings. It may sound something like: “I know you don't feel like holding my hand right now,  but it's my job as your mom to keep you safe, and that means we need to hold hands across the street."


    #6 Follow Up Post-Conflict

    Sweeping a parent child conflict under the rug can breed resentment. Addressing it can teach your child that conflicts aren’t the end of a relationship (or the world) and set an example of effective conflict resolution. 


    Following up post-conflict is also an opportunity to help you and your child figure out ways to avoid a similar disagreement in the future. This could be:


  • Color-coding feelings – Making artwork can be an inventive, creative way to help your child express their emotions. After they’ve calmed down, try breaking out the crayons or watercolors to let them “paint” whatever they were experiencing in full color. As they explore their emotions with different colors, be sure to listen and welcome all their feelings so they know expressing themselves with you is safe.

  • Apologize when necessary – If you realize you overreacted or didn’t listen to their concern as closely as you could have, try acknowledging it. This won’t call your authority into question. Actually, it can remind your child that you, too, are human and willing to take responsibility for your mistakes. If you are struggling to find just the right words, try using a script that can help you get started. Repair Bear’s story is a great place to start for inspiration. 

  • Resolve Conflicts Compassionately with Slumberkins

    Conflicts are unavoidable, but we always have a choice to find a smart and safe solution. Connecting with kids on their level and practicing emotional regulation can pave the way toward peace while subtly giving them some indispensable guidelines for life. 


    Slumberkins books, characters, and Snugglers were created to help children carve out a safe space to learn about and digest big emotions. Discover our stories about self care, emotional regulation, and add a conflict resolution book to your reading corner so that when conflict does arrive, your whole family has the tools needed to navigate it with care.


    Sources: 

    “Why Conflict Is Healthy for Relationships.” Psychology Today, 2017, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/conscious-communication/201703/why-conflict-is-healthy-relationships. 


    Rymanowicz, Kylie. “The Little Toddler That Could: Autonomy in Toddlerhood.” MSU Extension, 2015, www.canr.msu.edu/news/the_little_toddler_that_could_autonomy_in_toddlerhood.


    Rogers, Kristen. “Empathy Is Both a Trait and a Skill. Here’s How to Strengthen It.” CNN, 24 June 2020, www.cnn.com/2020/06/24/health/develop-empathy-skills-wellness/index.html.


    Mcilroy, Tanja. “The Stages of Emotional Development in Early Childhood.” Empowered Parents, 18 Aug. 2020, empoweredparents.co/emotional-development-stages/.


    Insider. Parents love this Instagram famous psychologist. Dr. Becky shared 5 tips for dealing with kids’ big feelings.

    Leeds, Sarene. “Parents Love This Instagram-Famous Psychologist. Dr. Becky Shared 5 Tips for Dealing with Kids’ Big Feelings.” Insider, www.insider.com/dr-becky-kennedys-tips-for-dealing-with-kids-feelings-2022-9. Accessed 6 Mar. 2023.


    brainsonfire. “Mirror Neurons & Bucket Fillers.” Australian Childhood Foundation Professionals, 30 July 2015, professionals.childhood.org.au/prosody/2015/07/mirror-neurons/.


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