I just finished helping 5-year-old Janie and almost 5-year-old Olivia work through a BIG conflict at my home-based school, so it was a good time to reflect on how we resolve conflicts between friends. I hope some of these ideas will help families and teachers with the conflicts that inevitably come up between friends and siblings at home and at school. As you can see from this story, figuring out what happened can sometimes take a little time.
Janie wanted to play with the robots at the puzzle table but Olivia wanted Janie to join her in the pretend area. It took a while to get to the bottom of it. After rest, instead of getting up, Janie stayed on her mat and mused about how she had “started something that would break someone’s heart.” That caught my attention!
Janie had remembered an “accident” she made recently when she said, “I won’t be your best friend anymore” as a threat to Olivia. Today, Olivia used the same threat on Janie to try to force her to come into the pretend area instead of playing at the puzzle table.
Janie was feeling guilty for having started this mess and was remembering the talk she had had with her mom about when this “shoe” was being invented. Now the “shoe was on the other foot” and it felt bad. Whew! Janie is 5, and her conscience is surely growing; Olivia’s too.
The lessons learned by children as they work on positive conflict resolution will be with them for a lifetime, so I was happy to take time to help Janie and Olivia work it out, even though it took a while. After some clarification, we all agreed not to use the “I won’t be your best friend” threat again. With just a little encouragement and quiet waiting on my part, they came up with a mutually agreeable choice about what to do next—playdough! This idea inspired them to quickly pick up their rest mats with light hearts.
Helping children learn to use constructive words to solve problems is a long-term process. It requires adult patience and lots of practice with children.
When children begin to fight, the source of the conflict is not always clear. It is not always the one who screams—or the one who hits—who has created the problem. Typically, when two children have a conflict, both of them have had a hand in creating the situation, but neither one knows how to work through his/her frustrations. I begin with that assumption.
It is most effective to help the children work it out together rather than trying to decide for yourself what started it. This process does not go quickly at first, but once each child knows how these discussions will work, the discussions become easier, faster, and less frequent. Sometimes children will even work out their disagreements without an adult!
Follow these steps toward simple conflict resolution:
Remember that assigning blame or punishment is never the goal (although taking responsibility for one’s part and making restitution is always helpful). The keys to success are to focus on solutions at all levels and to help the children talk directly to each other as appropriate for their developmental levels.