At a glance: A simple parenting tool that teaches conflict resolution for kids.
The kids are screaming at each other, she’s fuming… he’s close to tears. I just walked into the room and I have no idea what’s happening.
The last thing I want to do is take sides.
Luckily I don’t have to.
I have more than one kid, which means I know conflict is bound to happen. They are a normal part of life. I also know that the way disputes are resolved impacts much more than just this one intense moment.
These moments of tension with their siblings… the siblings that will love them no matter what, the siblings who will forgive them quickly, the siblings who see them at their worst but still light up when they come home…
It’s those moments that really teach our kids how to disagree without breaking relationships. How to participate in healthy relationships.
Every conflict becomes real-life training. Beautiful life experiences.
And that means… instead of being the referee we get to be the guide.
7 Steps to Conflict Resolution for Kids
Now that you know why conflict resolution for kids is so important, all you need are the steps to follow when the next conflict arises.
I’ve broken it down into 7 simple conflict resolution steps.
Step 1: Remove the item from EVERYBODY involved. (This is a really, really important step in conflict resolution.) Kids tend to feel ownership over anything they are physically touching. And when they feel ownership they will be less likely to work on the problem.
If the item is big, like a swing or bike then everyone should be scooted away from it. If the item is small, move it far enough away that no one can reach it.
Step 2: Identify the Problem. You’ll want to help the kids break down the problem into simple terms. This is also the point when you take out the emotions and hit the root of the problem.
You can do this by simply ignoring emotional arguments and asking direct questions. “Who wants this shovel?” “The shovel is mine! He always takes my things! I hate him!”
“Oh, I see. You want this shovel. Does anyone else want this shovel?” “I want the shovel!”
“You want the shovel. I hear that. Does anyone else want this shovel?” The response, a shrug with a timid point toward her brother.
“Ah, he wants the shovel too. So the problem is that you want this shovel and he 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?”
Extra tip: Some problems cause such an extreme emotional state that it’s important to address the anger before starting on this step. This post has simple ways to work through anger –> Anger Management for Kids. Move one once everyone has the chance to calm down.
Step 3: Ask for a solution. As adults, we are really quick to jump in with solutions to our kids’ problems… calling all referees 😉
For this parenting trick to work, you are just going to have to bite your tongue. I promise you will be so impressed with the brilliant solutions young kids can come up with … without adult help. The added bonus is that you don’t have to take sides, a win for everyone!
All the kids need in this step of conflict resolution 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. It 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 the other kid gets a chance. “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 kids are working together to solve a problem they always have the right to refuse a solution. It needs to be done in a respectful way.
“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 standoff in your brainstorming 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 TOY OR 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 and agree to anything. Or one kid will come up with a solution that brings an instant smile to their face. (This is the moment they realize just how brilliant they are!)
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 ensure both kids are sticking to the agreement but 9.5 times out of 10 everyone will walk away happy.
Now when you walk in and find her fuming… and him close to tears, you just might feel a bit excited to try out being the guide.
Printable Conflict Resolution Steps
Click here and I’ll send these 7 steps to conflict resolution for kids right on over to you!
For more Positive Sibling Solutions