How to Teach Young Children Conflict Resolution

Young Children & Conflict

Conflict is inevitable in all walks of life, from young children to elderly adults. The disputes might be different (fighting over whose turn it is to play with a toy versus who’s pitching in their fair share for utilities), but conflicts are always there just waiting to come out.

The easiest way for kids to get out of an uncomfortable situation is to run to an adult and tell them what’s wrong. If there is a serious issue (like an injury or dangerous situation), then this is an appropriate action. However, many children come running to adults for the most benign and trivial conflicts when really they could be solved on their own.

Parents have more important things to deal with aside from sibling skirmishes, especially among young children. Furthermore, if you’re always there to solve the problem, children will never learn how to resolve problems themselves. Instead of solving their problems for them, teach them how to solve conflicts by themselves. Only after they’ve tried to solve the problem themselves are they allowed to come to you for help.

Problem Solving Steps for Children

Although problem solving for children is similar to any sort of conflict resolution, I’ve simplified it some so that even young children can understand and implement it. Before your child comes to you with a problem, tell them to follow these three easy steps:

1. Tell the other child what you didn’t like and how it made you feel. What about what the other child did upset your child? It doesn’t have to be any in-depth discussion; even a few simple statements can do the trick. “I didn’t like it when you took my favorite toy car. It makes me feel sad.” 

2. Tell the other child what you’d like in the future. When this conflict comes up again, what should the other child do? “Next time, could you please ask before you take my favorite toy car?”

3. Wait for the other child to acknowledge the resolution. Ideally, the other child should agree to the proposed terms to avoid future conflict. “Okay. Next time I’ll ask before I play with your favorite toy car.”

Hopefully this simple three-step process will allow children to problem-solve on their own without having to come running to you for help. Of course, if the problem isn’t solved after these steps, they can come to you for help — but only after they’ve tried to solve the problem themselves.

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