Psychology for Living

Gwen Randall-Young
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Teaching children to live harmoniously

Our culture seems characterized by polarized thinking. Issues are often framed in terms of who is right and who is wrong. Dealing with a problem invariably means fighting it out until a winner and loser have been determined. Sadly, it is often the strongest, or the one with the most money or influence that wins.

This does not serve us very well, but it has been like this generation after generation. Why does this pattern persist? Is it just the way we are? Can we be different? I think we can. In order to be different, two things need to happen. First, adults need to want to change, and begin to use different problem-solving strategies. Second, they need to teach children this new way.

Learning about conflict begins very early, in the home, with siblings. Children fight because they have differences and do not know any other way to solve them.

Parents and teachers may either let the children “sort it out themselves,” or punish them for fighting. Neither approach gives them any skills or any reason it should happen differently the next time.

If, in addition to not being taught a better way, children observe parents or other adults handling differences in disrespectful or aggressive ways, they assume that is “normal.”

If you want to begin to do things differently, let children know as soon as they can understand, that fighting is not OK in their home. It is not OK to hit, or to say mean things. Instead, each time there is a disagreement, sit down with them to understand how the problem began, and how they could handle it differently next time. This could be as simple as asking someone to share, rather than just taking.

We need to teach children how to live together harmoniously rather than hoping it will somehow just happen. Parents in generations past have not done this, and the results are evident in our world. If we want to change it, we must start with ourselves and our children.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychotherapist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books or CDs, visit

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