Bickering about toys. Battles over who goes first. Tiffs, tats, tattling, too: It’s not very fun to listen to kids in conflict.
Understandably, if you’re like many of us, you move to extinguish the conflict as quickly as possible—with a raised voice, a swift removal of the problem toy, and a perhaps a demand that, You kids need to learn to get along!
But learning how to get along actually needs to be taught to young children, and therein lies the silver lining of sibling squabbles. Arguments give moms and dads a fantastic opportunity to teach children about resolving problems with positivity, calm, and kindness. That’s an interpersonal skill worth taking the time to teach. After all, conflict resolution will help your children live more peaceably at home with their siblings, their friends, and their future coworkers. In other words, our goal as parents shouldn’t be to get rid of conflict entirely, but to help our children successfully work through it.
So next time little tempers flare, try a new approach. It takes a little longer, but stick with it and you’ll find that what you’re laying down for your children is a road that leads to healthier relationships, and, yes, even peace. Take a look.
1. Bring some peace to the situation.
You cannot solve a conflict with the same energy that created it—so enter the room calmly and silently. Literally don’t say a word. Physically get down to the children’s level, preferably between them. Gently touch each child and make eye contact. This approach has the effect of removing power from the conflict and cooling the room.
2. Remove the source of the struggle—calmly.
If the children are fighting over a toy, don’t grab it from them. When they have quieted, put your hand out and say, Toy, please. Be patient. If they don’t give you the toy, ask for it again. If they still don’t, say, “You can put the toy in my hand, or I can help you.” (Which means that yes, you will take it if need be.)
3. Empathize with the most emotional child first—but acknowledge both.
Use the language of understanding to acknowledge the big feelings in the room. “Wow, it looks like you were really upset that you couldn’t play with that toy.” While talking, continue to touch each child gently and look at them both. Remember, your job is not to get to the bottom of the argument: You are not the judge or jury, and you weren’t there. Your job is to help them learn how to move through big feelings and conflict with positivity and calm.
4. Let them express what they wanted.
Help facilitate a positive dialogue between them, by helping them take turns talking and listening. Help each of them explain what he or she wants or needs without expressing blame or devolving into what was or wasn’t fair about the situation.
5. Ask them how they could work it out so they are both happy.
Lead a mini-brainstorming session, and to all of their suggestions try using phrases like, That’s an idea! Do not offer suggestions unless they get really stuck. Avoid judging someone’s idea being better than another; instead, you can respond with phrases like, I can see that solution would work for you, but do you think that would make your sister happy?
6. Help them choose a final solution.
Make sure they are both happy with the outcome.
7. Acknowledge both children specifically for the skills they demonstrated for solving their problem.
Find the good. You were patient. You were creative. You stuck up for your needs. Phrases like these help them identify positive skills to resolve future conflicts.
I’m sure you are saying to yourself, “I don’t have time to do this every time my children are fighting!” Don’t worry! You don’t have to. If you take the time to do these steps just a couple of times a week, eventually they’ll get the hang of it and do it on their own.