I have no idea where I learned about conflict resolution for kids. While I am certainly not taking credit for inventing this BRILLIANT strategy, I have been using conflict resolution for so long that I consider myself an expert on the subject. Trust me this is one parenting tip you will want to memorize!!!
If you have more than one child, you know that conflict is bound to happen. Don’t tune me out if you’ve got an only child though, the beauty of conflict resolution is that once you’ve mastered it, it will work with any conflict. (Kid vs. School Problem, Kid vs. Neighbor, Kid vs. Toy, Kid vs. Situation…even dare I say Kid vs. Adult!)
Before getting started with conflict resolution for kids make sure to handle any angry outbursts first.
Conflict Resolution for Kids
Step 1: Remove the item from EVERYBODY involved. (This is a really, really important step in conflict resolution.) If the item is big, like a swing or bike then everyone should be scooted away from it. Kids tend to feel ownership over anything they are physically touching.
Step 2: Identify the Problem. You’ll want to help the kids break down the problem into simple terms and hit the root of the problem. You can do this by simply ignoring emotional arguments and asking direct questions. “Who wants this shovel? Oh, I see. You want this shovel. Does anyone else want this shovel? Ah, she wants the shovel too. So the problem is that you want this shovel and she wants this shovel. Is that the problem?” Once the first kid agrees, clear it with the second kid. “Is the problem that you want this shovel and he wants this shovel?”
Step 3: Find a solution. As adults we are really quick to jump in with solutions to our kids’ problems… we are older and wiser after all. 😉 If you give this a try, use patience (and of course bite your tongue) I promise you will be so impressed with the brilliant solutions young kids can come up with. All they need is a little guidance and some time to think. “Now that we know what the problem is, all we have to do is find a solution.” Direct your question to one kid first. “What solution can you think of for this problem?”
Step 4: Repeat the solution. It doesn’t matter what your kid says, it’s a solution. Might not be a working solution, but it is an idea that should be respected. “Oh, okay. Your solution is that you play with the shovel all day and he digs with his hands.” Once she confirms that is what she suggested turn to the other kid. “She suggested that she will use the shovel all day and you can dig with your hands…does that work for you?”
Step 5: Another solution. Because the two children are working together to solve a problem they always have the right to refuse a solution. It needs to be done respectfully. “No, that idea does not work for me.” You will then acknowledge their right to decline the offer, and ask them to offer up their own ideas.“That idea doesn’t work for you. What solution can you think of?”
***Important note. This part of the process can go on for a long time, but the outcome is worth the effort. If you come to a stand off and solutions are not coming, simply take a break. “I’ll tell you what, I have to go over here for a bit, you to keep thinking. When you have a solution that works for both of you I would love to hear it.” MAKE SURE TO TAKE THE ITEM WITH YOU!***
Step 6: The solution. Eventually one of two things will happen; one kid will decide they don’t care that much about the item, or one kid will come up with a solution that brings an instant smile to their face. (They realize they’re brilliant!) Once the other kid agrees all that’s left is the confirmation.
Step 7: Repeat the problem and solution… just to make sure everyone understands. “So the problem was that he wanted the shovel and she wanted the shovel. The solution that you both agree on is that he will play with the shovel until his hole is done and then he will bring it over to you. Is that correct?”
The beauty of conflict resolution is that since the kids came up with the solution they are far more likely to stick to it. You should still pay attention and make sure both kids are sticking to the agreement but 9.5 times out of 10 everyone will walk away happy. (Lucky, Lucky Mommy!)
Get a printable version of these Conflict Resolution steps.
Have you tried conflict resolution for kids? What was your experience?
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This conflict resolution for kids post first appeared on Sept. 2, 2011.