Conflict is Normal

Conflict vs. Bullying Behavior

Conflict is a part of everyday life. As adults, we maneuver ourselves away from conflict throughout our days, and sometimes we know that it just happens. It goes without saying, so it is to be expected that some conflict is also normal in our children’s lives. All adults need to recognize that some of what we call “bullying” may actually be developmentally appropriate conflict and is a normal part of growing up.

What should we expect from children in relation to conflict and how do we help them negotiate it? How is developmentally appropriate conflict different from a bullying situation? What can we do to protect our children when it’s bullying? And how do we know when to step in to help them get out of potentially dangerous situations?

Learn more: How to recognize bullying behavior >>

Quick Links:

Children go through developmental stages; with each stage, they struggle and conquer different issues or different angles of issues. Each of the links below discusses types of conflicts experienced by children as well as some ways that adults can help children and teens become resilient adults who can overcome the adversity of bullying now, and the adversity that they will surely continue to face as they grow older.

Ages 6-9

With girls in this age group, conflict will show itself in words and mostly nonviolent actions such as excluding others from groups. Boys tend to have more aggressive behavior in play, so their conflict can also become aggressive. Adults don’t need to step into every conflict situation, but ongoing interaction with children about their word choices and their actions is very appropriate.

What to Expect:

  • This stage can be seen as one of serial best friends at first until later they widen their friendship group. This can cause issues when one child is left out or when friend changes happen.
  • This stage is full of conflicts with others at school and at home as children learn how to negotiate peer competition in sports, in the classroom, and even with adults.
  • This stage is when children realize that they have opinions, that they start to make those opinions heard, and that – sometimes – those opinions differ from others’ opinions.
  • This stage can be hard on children as they maneuver new experiences. Success in these relational experiences leads them to feel competent, but failure results in feelings of inferiority.

How to help kids in this stage:

  • Perspective Taking: Adults should help kids to see situations from others’ perspectives by asking questions such as, “How would you feel if she had called you the name you called her?”
  • Expand Peer Groups: Educators should assign seating in the classroom and at the lunch table, assign partners for projects, and choose teams for the sports. Parents can help by inviting classmates who are outside of their child’s current “circle” to dinner or out for ice cream. Enroll your child in extra-curricular activities where they are forced to interact with a different peer group. The more meshing of all children, the better! They will isolate without the help of adults!
  • Pay Attention: Adults should stay in close proximity of this age group as much as possible. While a little independence is good for them, peripheral monitoring of these children is necessary. When parents and teachers leave this age group to their own devices, this group has the ability to make very poor choices.

Download these tips. (PDF)

Learn more: Parenting Kids Ages 6-9

Ages 10-14

In this stage, adults need to see themselves as guides—almost “gatekeepers”—for children. Even though children can take on more responsibility for themselves in this stage, parents need to be available both physically and emotionally as much as possible. Adults also need to see themselves as mentors of behaviors for this stage.Adults can help all children in this stage negotiate conflict by helping children in the following ways:

What to Expect:

  • Children in this stage have the ability to think like adults without the life experiences of adulthood. They want independence but still need guidance. When we begin question our children’s thoughts and actions, conflicts will happen, and when our children do not see the sense in what they are being told by peers or by adults, it can be cause for conflict as well.
  • Acceptance is a big deal at this stage! Teens especially need to know that they fit in somewhere, and peer acceptance becomes very important in middle school and high school.
  • Relationships can be hard to negotiate at this stage as friendships and romantic feelings begin to blend. Peer relationships can get complicated because kids in this stage are spending so much time together at school, in sports, and in other activities.
  • Cliques become prevalent at this stage as children and teens start to identify themselves with one group or another. It is not until high school that they can start to identify with multiple groups and have friends across activities.
  • In our current society, this would be the typical stage for children to enter the social media world as Facebook’s policy for account holders is that they must be 13 or older.

How to help tweens in this stage:

  • Reign in the Social Media: Adults need to educate and closely monitor children’s interactions on social media sites like Facebook and YouTube. Depending on the state or residence, parents can be held legally responsible for their children’s actions on their home computers and cell phones.
  • Create Family Identity: Because acceptance is such an important part of this stage, children need to feel that there is one place where they feel unconditionally accepted—a place where they have an identity. Additionally, creating a model for healthy conflict resolution within the family structure will model habits that children can take into other environments.
  • Encourage Multiple Interests: Parents and teachers can combat clique development by noticing children’s interests and helping them to pursue them. Adults should always be on the look-out for a way to add children to a new mix. Crossing “categories” (such as having an art interest or singing group as well as a sport) is a great way to connect children with others.
  • Talk It Out: Adults need to prepare themselves for this stage because it may be filled with a lot of words. These conversations are very important as children need to start putting reasons behind almost every decision that is made. They are no longer toddlers whose “why?” can be answered with “because I am the dad, and I say so. ”Keep in mind that every conversation is a teaching moment. Seek out conversations during peaceful times so that concepts can be discussed outside of the heat of a moment.

Download these tips. (PDF)

Learn more: Parenting Kids Ages 10-14

Ages 15-18

In this stage, adults need to see themselves as role models for teens. Every interaction with teens could be a learning experience. Almost every question that teens ask could have a deeper meaning than what it appears on the surface. Adults need to be prepared to go deeper by asking questions while being cautious not to scare teens away.

What to Expect:

  • In this stage, teens have many adult characteristics but still need rules, guidance, and consequences. Teens may not outwardly admit that they see their parents as authority figures or advocates, but they believe it inside. Conflict in teen-parent, teen-teen, and teen-teacher relationships is common.
  • Teens in this stage may have internal issues or conflicts that they experience. This can be a struggle for some teens, and adults need to pay attention for mental health warning signs.
  • Although cliques reduce in this stage as interests and friendships expand, dating becomes more prevalent. This can lead to very intense, exclusive pairings. This needs to be watched as those involved may not have all of the skills required to maneuver these new relationships, and this could lead to conflict with friends, with significant others, and with parents.
  • It is likely that teens will start to spend large amounts of time away from home with friends, work commitments, and extra-curricular activities.
  • Much of actual conflict occurs via instant messaging or texting which leads to further conflict due to the lack of clear communication and missing important aspects such as the non-verbal side of communication.

How to help teens in this stage:

  • Increase Independence with Clear Expectations: This is the time when parents can start to let their teens make more choices about where they are and who they are with. At the same time, parents need to maintain clear expectations (and high ones!) for behavior, grades, and communication. Being flexible in situations that warrant it can help the parent-teen relationship, but maintaining the overall essence of what is expected is important.
  • Make Family a Priority: Teens need a home base from which to maneuver the rest of the world. This is a time in their lives when home needs to be the safe zone for them. Parents need to create family time that is protected while being flexible around your teen’s commitments. For example: having Sunday afternoons be a family day where everyone agrees to eat meals together and play a board game or go to a movie together can allow teens to start off the week on the right foot.
  • Create Codes for Getting Teens Help: Teens have a lot of other people in their lives – bosses, teachers, and friends – who do not always have their best interests at heart. Teens need to know how to access help from their parents when they need it. Cell phones and texting have made this easier for teens to reach out to parents without saying things out loud in front of these people. Teens need to know that their parents will help them get out of sticky situations – even if there may be consequences later.
  • Be Prepared to Interact: Teens need adults to act as sounding boards. They also need guidance from people who have been down roads ahead of them. Even though they do not always admit it, teens look to adults to model how to get through conflict. The way that adults describe conflicts in their work environments or in their friendships impacts how teens handle similar situations. When teens see adults going through conflict – whether with success or failure, they will create templates from which they can then interact in conflicting experiences. Adults need to be willing to talk through their successful and failed conflicts with them so that they can learn how to proceed in both the teen and adult worlds.

Download these tips. (PDF)

Learn more: Parenting Teens Ages 15-18




Great article! I read recently that parents should ‘Parent to Prevent’. Parents are the lynchpin in the bullying cycle. Our society is so distracted by tech and uncertainty that our kids pay the price. It’s not the job of the schools to raise our kids. Parents and family members can lean in and help guide the next generation. Good stuff!!