Understanding our Children’s Development in Relation to Conflict Resolution through Sandra V. Sandy's Article
The Tendency to Focus Mostly on Academic Developmental Milestones
My six-year-old daughter, Lucie, is considered a “young” first grader because she was born in July 2010. While she enjoys many aspects of attending elementary school, she still struggles with learning to read and write; much more so than any of my other four children. When recently meeting with her teacher and her school’s reading specialist, I learned that while Lucie is now minimally proficient considering national averages, she will need extra work to get up to speed in reading.
To facilitate Lucie’s reading development, each night, we pull out her special purple reading bag to review a few books along with various sight words she is required to memorize. The teachers assure me that memorizing sight words will help anchor her reading in greater comprehension without having to sound out each word one by one. During our nearly 30 minutes of reading together each night, I am spending direct energy in trying to help Lucie learn how to read and understand what she reads. At times, I must painfully wait as she sounds out a word during a space of 30-60 seconds, which feels like an eternity during a short story. She is making progress, but it is sometimes slow.
Throughout her childhood, I know that Lucie will continue to be measured, graded, and monitored for her reading and writing skills. At school, teachers and specialists will make sure that she is moving along a steady development trajectory appropriate to her age and per national averages. At home, I will continue to take specific steps to help her meet her academic goals. In short, both at home and at school, important adults in Lucie’s life will be working to make sure that Lucie stays on track to reach important academic development milestones.
The Need to Cultivate More Areas of Social, Emotional, and Cognitive Development
As a society, we put a lot of effort into, and tend to be knowledgeable about, how to help our children keep up with cognitive developmental milestones in academic areas like reading or math. Yet, we are often much less informed and less knowledgeable about our children’s mental, emotional, and social development milestones related to conflict resolution. While we intuitively know these “soft” skills heavily influence our children and families’ well-being, we often do not directly teach them to our children at home or at school.
Knowing these two facts that (1) we often lack adequate knowledge about our children’s important social, emotional, and cognitive milestones related to conflict resolution AND (2) we do not often teach these skills enough directly at home or at school, I have chosen to investigate the following two fundamental questions:
Sandy, Sandra V. 2014. “The Development of Conflict Resolution Skills: Preschool to Adulthood.” In Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice, edited by Coleman, Peter T., Morton Deutsch, and Eric C. Marcus, 430-463. San Francisco: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
This one article is packed with insights about preschool, middle childhood aged, and teenage children’s development related to conflict resolution. Given the amount of valuable parenting information in Sandy’s article, I will be writing several successive blog posts based on this one article. In today’s post, we will investigate the first question about what social, emotional, and cognitive skills serve as foundational skills for constructive conflict resolution.
“Sight” Skills for Effective Conflict Resolution
Like Lucie’s sight words which anchor her reading abilities, there are “sight” skills for resolving conflict, which will anchor our children’s behavior in conflict situations. Sandy identifies five essential skills that parents can begin cultivating in their children from a very young age:
Making these social and emotional skills solid, natural, and even automatic through habit, will definitely positively influence our children’s relationships throughout a lifetime. With these strong interpersonal skills, our children will be able to better handle the more complicated and stressful life experiences they will naturally encounter as they mature into adulthood.
Alternatively, without reaching these important emotional milestones, our children “are at risk of retaining negative traits [such] as impulsivity, emotional functioning, behavioral problems, and even a propensity to violence.” All around us, and perhaps in our own homes, we are witnessing the need for helping our children develop their social and emotional abilities to effectively resolve differences with others.
Often, we attribute our children’s emotional understanding, empathy, perspective taking, self-control, and relationship building skills primarily to temperament or personality. But, we need to consider these skills more in terms of developmental skills rather than personality attributes because they can be learned (or relearned) and are heavily influenced by our teaching.
Children—especially young children—are extremely flexible in terms of social learning. The patterns we set early in our children’s lives lay the foundation for more complicated and sophisticated social behaviors that will evolve as our children mature.
The Role of Nurture in Developing Children’s Mental, Emotional, and Social Skills and Abilities
Considering the importance of conflict resolution skills over a person’s lifetime, we should carefully consider the fact that these skills are often more influenced by experience rather than age.
Specifically, Sandy says that “although children appear to have some level of innate capacity for certain social-emotional responses, such as empathy and perspective taking, these are frequently hit-or-miss skills unless the child is effectively tutored by an adult. Since interpersonal understanding is influenced more by experience than by age, a three-year old can be at a higher development level than a six-year old.”
While genetics has a role in our children’s development, Sandy affirms that nurture has a strong influence in any child’s life. In terms of social, emotional, and social development, experience often has a stronger influence than age in promoting child well-being and successful relationship building. This means that your parenting can make an enormous difference in how effectively your child develops these key skills related to conflict resolution.
In the past child development experts, such as Piaget and Erickson, have talked about child development in terms of distinct phases that children pass through. In more recent years, child development specialists, consider children’s development more in terms of a spectrum that is heavily influenced by role models not only demonstrating skills, but also directly teaching interpersonal skills to even very young children.
Why does understanding child development milestones matter to my parenting?
We tend to parent differently when we understand important cognitive, emotional, and physical capabilities that differentiate preschoolers, elementary school-aged children, and teenagers. Rather than demand that our children immediately meet adult standards of behavior and thought, we can pace out our expectations for our children’s mastery of emotional understanding, empathy, perspective taking, self-control, and relationship building. As we better understand our children’s actual developmental possibilities, we will take the time and put the energy into cultivating our children’s development like my nightly reading with Lucie.
With greater knowledge, we can teach age-appropriate skills and exercise more patience knowing that our children are still maturing cognitively, socially, and emotionally. With solid social and emotional skills, our children will eventually be able to deal with conflict in more sophisticated ways. Breaking down these skills into smaller pieces may help us not only model, but also directly teach how to empathize, regulate emotion, take the perspective of another person, exercise self-control, and build positive relationships with others.
Upcoming Blog Post:
Understanding Preschooler’s Developmental Abilities with Conflict Resolution
Next week, we will continue exploring insights from Sandy's article and focus on the developmental possibilities for preschool aged children (3-5 years old) to learn the five-identified social and emotional skills that undergird constructive conflict management.
Emily de Schweinitz Taylor