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Many parents have the goal of watching their children grow into independent young people. However, independence brings its own set of challenges, says Barbara Dunn Swanson, a human sciences specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach (ISU Extension and Outreach).
“Children, from a young age, want to do things on their own,” said Swanson, who specializes in family life issues. “Watching your child move from crawling, to learning to stand, and then take that first step, is exciting. As children master skills, they become more independent – which requires parents to be patient,” Swanson said. “As young children learn to be independent, there is potential for conflict; but conflict is a normal part of everyday living. Although we may think of conflict as negative, conflict also can be positive, because it can help us grow and develop skills.”
Parents can foster an environment of learning and discovery to help their children learn how to resolve conflict in a healthy way. “Developing skills to resolve conflict comes with age. We have to think in terms of readiness. A two-year-old may not readily understand how to resolve conflict, but over time, can learn problem-solving techniques. Helping youth to recognize opposing points of view is important; as is learning that actions have consequences,” Swanson emphasized.
“When children learn that their behavior has direct impact upon others, they learn to manipulate situations in both good and bad ways”, Swanson continued. Helping children identify solutions to conflict is important. Parents can model good conflict resolution skills at home, so that children can learn the skills and practice at home, at school, and into their future. “Talking through conflicts when they occur is a good way to make sure that something positive can come from the situation. Let children explain how they see the situation and then make sure that all parties listen to all sides. That’s the first step to resolving the issue,” Swanson explained.
For parents looking for more resources about helping children become more independent and able to solve problems, as well as a variety of other topics, Swanson encourages them to visit The Science of Parenting blog, from ISU Extension and Outreach. It provides information for parenting preschool and elementary children, as well as guiding teens.

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