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Resolving Conflicts

by Dr. Susan Canizares | July 14, 2016 | Child Development

shutterstock_92398720Conflict can be uncomfortable for young children, causing anxiety or fear. This is true for many adults as well. However, it is natural, and occurs on a daily basis. It is typical for young children to experience conflict over toys, space, relationships, and power. As a parent, you are the biggest influence in your child’s life. They look to you for ways to manage and resolve conflict.

You can set the stage for teaching conflict resolution by demonstrating how to manage and resolve problems. The goal of this process is not to prevent conflict, but to teach children how to come to a reasonable decision in a safe, fair way. In order to facilitate effective conflict resolution skills, there are some important steps to remember.

  • Help children calm down. When they’re full of emotion, they’re not ready to begin a process of resolution. Approach them calmly. Help them take a few deep breaths to relax.
  • Talk about wants and needs. When talking to children about a conflict, focus on what they want, not what happened. “You really wanted the ball that Sophia was playing with.” Name the feeling. “It is frustrating to want something that someone else has.”
  • Define the problem. After listening to both sides, repeat what the children are saying in a clear, unbiased way. “I see that two children want to play with the same ball.”
  • Help find a solution. Ask, “What could you do to solve this problem?” Together, brainstorm solutions before you help put one into action.
  • Look at the solution. Not all solutions will work. If the problem continues, begin the process over. It’s important to stay nearby and acknowledge the children when the problem-solving has worked.

Conflict can be an excellent source for learning, if facilitated properly, and in a peaceful way. It has educational and social value in a child’s development. Peaceful conflict resolution offers opportunities for children to gain confidence in handling situations that are not always easy.

In order to teach peaceful conflict resolution, you need to anticipate when conflict is bound to happen, respond in an appropriate way, and support the children in conflict. In order to effectively coach children in peaceful conflict resolution, the following strategies are crucial:

  • Don’t step in too soon when a disagreement begins. It’s a natural reaction to want to solve the conflict for your children. However, this does not allow the children time to work out the issue on their own. It is also important to understand that even if their solution is not the one you would have suggested, it may work for them!
  • Step in quickly if a child’s behavior becomes dangerous. For example, if a child appears ready to throw a toy at another child, it is important to stop that behavior.
  • Watch children as they interact. This way, you can be prepared for when conflict arises and approach them without prejudging the behaviors.
  • Interact with the children. Restate and summarize what you’re seeing. For example: “I’ll hold the blocks so they’ll be safe while we work this out. You look mad that he took the large block from you. You both want to play with the blocks.” Speaking to both children: “What are some ideas about how we can figure this out?” By listening and facilitating the conversation, you can guide the children in solving the problem so they both feel that they have been heard and are valued.

The most important thing to remember is that conflict resolution skills need to be practiced. Children need to see them in action, and to have a calm, caring adult guide them through the process. It’s also important to understand that conflict is normal, and learning how to successfully resolve conflict is essential for success in later life.

Learn more about conflict resolution skills on the following websites: