Archived Story

How to help children deal with conflicts positively

Published 9:10am Saturday, August 18, 2012

Column: Maryanne Law, Families First

Question:I need some help in how to deal with my children positively over the summertime conflicts that are occurring in our household.

Maryanne Law

Answer: An important parenting skill to encourage or discourage specific behaviors involves modifying the environment. A child’s environment can be modified by adding to it, limiting it or changing things around.  Here are some examples:

• Add to your children’s environment by enrichment — introducing materials or activities that engage your children’s interest: provide a new book or demonstrate a new use of an old toy.

• Add to your children’s environment by enlargement — broaden the areas in which your children may play: going to the backyard or taking a trip to the park.

• Limit your children’s environment by reducing a stimulus activity or removing a physical stimulus: no rough housing, removing crayons or turning off the TV.

• Limit your children’s environment by restricting certain activities to certain areas: riding the tricycle only in the basement or using play dough only at the kitchen table.

• Limit your children’s environment by simplifying — making it easier for your children to function independently and effectively: put a step stool in the kitchen, use a plate with a rim or hang a low towel rack.

• Change your children’s environment by rearranging, displaying or storing items in your home to encourage or discourage certain behavior: store poisons up high, put toys on low shelves for easy access, or have a coat rack by the door.

These concepts can also be adapted for older children. Think creatively with your spouse or grandparent or another parent. What new activity or craft project could you teach your children this summer? Where could you go visit or explore for the first time? Are there periods of time during the summer hours that the TV needs to be off?

How about being sure that the refrigerator and cupboards are stocked with healthy choices: fruits and prepared vegetables, mixed nuts, peanut butter and crackers, pudding cups and cheese slices? Then, a final reminder: adult monitoring and friendly involvement is the best way to modify a child’s behavior. We need to be alert in verbally affirming behavior we want to encourage and quick to interrupt behavior we find potentially distressing or dangerous, staying firm and calm ourselves.

If you would like to talk with a parenting specialist about the challenges in raising children, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 888-584-2204/Linea de Apoyo at 1-877-4343-9528. For free emergency child care, call the Crisis Nursery at 877-434-9599. Check out


Maryanne Law is the executive director of the Parenting Resource Center in Austin.