Many young children have problem sharing toys, taking turns and assigning roles when they play together. These everyday conflicts are great opportunities to teach 2- to 6-year-olds the skills to resolve disagreements in a productive and positive way.
Benefits of Conflict Resolution
Learning to handle conflicts and disagreements in productive ways is a skill that children will use throughout their lives. When children practice conflict resolution they become more sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. They also gain self-confidence when they learn to resolve their problems in a positive way.
Conflict resolution requires listening, good communication and coming up with solutions that everyone can agree to. This kind of problem solving allows children to be creative and teaches them to evaluate solutions.
Steps to Conflict Resolution in Children
You can teach your children how to negotiate and resolve disagreements by guiding them through simple steps. You will have to lead them through the steps at first, especially very young children. But when done repeatedly, children can work their way through the steps by themselves.
Step 1: Approach calmly and stop any hurtful actions: Immediately stop any hurtful actions that are being exchanged. Use a calm but firm voice. It won’t do any good if you approach the already emotionally charged situation with your voice raised or by angrily chastising the children.
Step 2: Find a quiet place to talk : Remove the children from the place where the conflict occurred. Find a quiet place where everyone can sit down and discuss the situation without interruptions.
Step 3: Set ground rules: Conflicts can stir up strong emotions in children. Setting ground rules ensures that you and your children will discuss the situation rationally and will arrive at a solution that everybody agrees with. Some of these ground rules include:
- Everyone gets a say.
- Everyone listens without interrupting.
- Everyone gets to suggest a solution.
- All solutions will be discussed.
- The group will have to agree and choose one solution.
Step 4: Gather information: Go around the circle and ask each child to tell her side of the story. Start by acknowledging their feelings like “I can see that Mikey is angry. Can you tell me what happened?” Acknowledging their feelings and allowing them to talk about it helps them to understand why they’re feeling that way and such negative feelings can be expressed in non-aggressive ways.
Step 5: Restate the problem: Summarize the problem in a clear manner based on the information you gathered from all the children. You might say something like, “Mikey and Billy, it seems that you both want to be chief firefighter in dramatic play. Is that right?”
Step 6: Ask for ideas for solutions: Go round the group again and ask each child for suggestions on how to solve the situation. Encourage each child to give a solution even if the suggestion he or she gave is the same as the other one.
Step 7: Choose one solution together: Help your children to choose a solution. Discuss the pros and cons of one solution and ask how they would feel about it. Encourage the children to think how this solution would affect them and the others. You could say something like, “Billy suggested that he’ll play the chief firefighter, while you hold onto the hose. How do you feel about playing with the hose instead, Mikey?”
Step 8: Put the solution into effect: Congratulate your children for coming up with a solution together. Go with them as they’re trying out the solution and provide additional support if needed. If you see that the solution isn’t working, bring them back together to negotiate.
With practice, children can take on these steps on their own with your guidance. Conflict resolution teaches children the value of good communication and allows them to be more accepting of other children’s feelings and point of view.