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!
Click here and I’ll send these 7 steps to conflict resolution for kids right on over to you!
For more Positive Sibling Solutions
Thank you so much for breaking it down step by step. I feel more armed now the next time I have my two nephews with me and they start arguing and fighting.
You are very welcome! I would love to hear how it works with your nephews.
hmm I have never tried this one with my twins….we have always used take turns for two minutes. I will definitely try this one out soon! Thanks!
I hope you find it to be as helpful as I have. Come back and tell me how it went!
Mary L. says
Awesome! Can I print this and put it on my fridge?
YES! YES! YES!
Wow. I love this! I was an only child growing up, but I have three children of my own and do not get all the bickering and squabbling at all. This is going to help me. I love the idea of posting it on the fridge.
It’s a really empowering tool…I can’t wait to hear how it works at your house.
this is brilliant! thank you for sharing and breaking it down into specific step-by-step detail and dialogue. i’m actually “looking forward” to a conflict to see if it works!
It is so AWESOME when you feel armed and ready for conflict! I can’t wait to hear how it goes.
As an early childhood professional working in the field for over 15 years I am so pleased to see a parent posting such a quality response for other parents. Kudos to you and to those trying to follow this technique. If you are able to follow through consistently, you will be rewarded with children who are adept problem solvers and able to resolve conflicts with both peers and adults. These are social and thought processing skills that will serve your child well into the future!
Thank you Jennifer! This comment really makes my day… and I totally agree!
Katrina Schurter says
I am a child and adolescent mental health counselor and I spend a LOT of my time working with the parents. I love your stuff and have begun to refer parents to your site for those that have access to the internet. (I work with disadvantaged youth and families) Thank you for all your help!!!
Thank you so much. I’m touched that you find my information useful and that you are passing along my site.
I love this idea for conflict resolution and will print out the idea to have it on hand for our next dispute. I would suggest one more outcome…they forget what they were fighting over and start playing something else.
chandra wong says
I once watched a Montessori teacher use a similar strategy to yours. I was amazed at how it worked but have forgotten the ‘steps’ with the passage of time. Thanks for writing this out!
I love your ideas and the fighting and toy stealing and hitting are happening with my boys. I have a 1 and 3 year old so how can I do the solution. My one year old doesn’t talk yet.
Oh man that is no fun! For this technique both kids really need to be able to communicate their needs and understand what they are committing to. That said, the structure works really well when having a kid/parent convo. Maybe if you approach your oldest as the “big boy” and explain the problem he will be able to help come up with a solution. “We have a problem. when you and xxx are playing together it seems like there is a lot of hitting and fighting. xxx isn’t old enough to tell you what he wants yet. Do you have any ideas of how we can make playtime more fun for both of you?” I bet putting him in that role will change his actions a bit and maybe that will snowball into him modeling awesome behavior for his little brother
Thank You, I will try this.
Rachel McGowan says
This is great and I will be using with my 3 children (from tomorrow, lol)
I read this yesterday and thought it brilliant. I used it with my 5.5year old and my 17 month old this morning. The little on couldn’t engage, but I went through the steps as best I could with the older one and he came up with a great solution.
Following this success I intervened this afternoon at a play date when my 5yo was getting hysterical over a toy with his friend. I removed the toy and he told me what was happening (they disagreed on whether the pirate was a goodie or baddie). I said to think of a solution and he just yelled ‘I dont want to find a solution,I want my pirate back’ and then bit me (to my utter shock). I continued calmly (dealt with the biting later when we had calmed down) and he said his friend could have another toy… and thats what happened…
anyway, getting eventually to the point.. other parents (when I tried to explain what I was doing) all agreed I should not have got involved and that my intervention stopped them sorting it out themselves. . I thought I was helping them learn how to fix things themselves..
any thoughts gratefully received. I feel confused 🙁 thank you
Oh Helen I’m so sorry to hear your first attempts in public weren’t as successful as you’d hoped. But I am thrilled to hear it worked so well at home! 17 months is pretty young to get this working, but man you’ll be ready as soon as he (or she) can grasp it. This takes practice for you and your son. Try it a few more times at home until your comfortable and your son feels empowered by it… then take it outside.
For me I want to provide the same thing you said “helping them learn how to fix things themselves”. This techniques gives me the words to use and helps them learn the words to use later.
Good luck and let me know if you have more questions!
Thank you so much for your encouragement 🙂 i think are right, practice more with it at home before trying it out elsewhere. Have you tried it when there is conflict between you and your child?
Thank you 🙂
Jill, how come you didn’t share this with me before?!? (I know, it’s been posted on here for a while. No one’s fault but my own.) I will try it today. I’m sure we’ll have multiple conflicts that need resolution. 🙂
Karen Smullen says
I used this method for twenty years in my classroom… it works every time and soon becomes the norm. You suddenly become the wise council instead of the cop! Thank you for articulating this method so well.
I’m currently doing an internship in a daycare center and I encounter those fights about a toy very often . The children are 3 years old. I tried this method, but generally it doesn’t work. On the one hand I have observed that the children a so used to adults resolving their conflicts that they won’t accept a technique asking their participation. (That is one of the reasons I tried to introduce it.) On the other hand I have the impression they are just too emotional in such situations, hitting or throwing themselves to the floor screaming and crying over loosing the desired object. It is just impossible to get them calm down to reason together and find a peaceful solution. Is there anything I can do to introduce this method to children who are obviously not used to it at all? Are they just too young for this method?
What a great question! I think I might add it in as an extra step before #1. Helping the kids calm down a bit before starting is very important. Sometimes all it takes to bring calm to these situations is to reinforce that you hear and understand that they are upset. “Wow, you are really upset. You want to play with this truck so much.” Once they know that you see it as a big problem too, they know your are there to help.
Remember that this method is not just new to them, it’s also new to you. It might take a while for you to get comfortable with the process and that’s okay. Be patient and see if it becomes a tool that you will work for you.
Thank you very much for your answer, Jillian. I won’t give up and keep trying. Thank you for step #0, I think it is very important to get started, especially with children not used to the method. I am now more motivated than ever to keep this going!
I can’t wait to hear how it works for you.
Jillian, I have two girls, 6.5 and 4, who fight a LOT. But my oldest sabotages my attempts at conflict resolution All. The. Time. She’ll just say “fine she can just have it forever then!” if it’s a fight over an object, and give into the younger one, much to the delight of little sis. I’ve tried telling her that this doesn’t help little sister learn if she just gives into her everytime. I’ve told her it just teaches little that if she puts up enough of a fuss she’ll get her way every time.
The longer it takes us to talk out a solution, the greater the chance big one just gives in to little one. I don’t feel this is fair. On the RARE ocassion big one “wins” first, say in your toy shovel example, she would immediately give shovel over to little sis. So ALL THAT WORK FOR NOTHING. ugh. It’s frustrating. Any advice?
This is really a great question. I leaned more towards big sis when I was little and my son does the same. It’s true that some people are more willing to walk away then stand up for themselves. This is actually a great way for you to teach your oldest how to stand up for what she wants. To teach her skills in this safe environment to pick the things that are important to her and stand her ground.
Here’s what I would try. After a few conflicts sit with her privately. “I noticed that the last few times we worked on a problem between you and sis, you decided to let her have it first. That is very kind of you, but I was wondering something. Is that really what you wanted? You know it’s okay to ask for what you want. You can be kind both to others AND to yourself.” Let her talk and really hear where she is coming from.
“Would you like me to help you find the words to ask for what you want? Do you want to make up a signal for when a solution doesn’t work for you? That way I can help you stand up for what you want a couple of times while you practice it.”
Remember that some people are just this way and that makes them wonderful givers. Sometimes she would just rather walk away and that is okay. But doing this for a while she should slowly start to learn how to stand her ground in a way that feels comfortable for her. 🙂 I hope that helps. Let me know if you want to talk about it.
I foresee a major problem. What if he wants to finish digging his hole in two or three days? Then she says he is taking too long. Then you have to take the shovel away and tell them “they’ve had enough time to play with the shovel.” Then she gets it but he says you all agreed he would have it until he was done. Then you create a conflict stemming from the original conflict. You failed to mention the boundaries or limitations. How long can he have it for? Doesn’t matter if he completes his hole or not. He has to finish the hole in that timeframe or he doesn’t finish digging it.
This is an amazing technique. I had just finished reading it and there was a situation with my two (5yo and 8yo) over sharing. I tried this and it worked amazingly. Tried it agin later te same day and they already knew where I was going with it and quickly worked out a solution.
I have tried to get the free printable for our fridge but haven’t had any luck getting it to email. Would appreciate any help with this 🙂
Amy Kirchhoff says
Same here…No luck getting the printable. I’m eager to have the reminder on my ‘frig as well. This is brilliant!
Amy Kirchhoff says
Hi there. I just purchased your Camp Mom book and used the link on that workbook to find this page. I am unable to submit my name and address…The “thinker” circle just keeps going around and around. I’ve refreshed the page several times; also, inputting my name and email in pop up boxes for other printables of yours hasn’t been a problem. Just this one seems a little glitchy. But I sure would like the print out reminder. So much positive feedback here! 😉
Sending you the print out now!
When I enter my email for the printable, the symbol just keeps spinning but never completes the task. I’ve tried it for 3 days now. Can I attach my email here and have you send it to me? This will work wonders with my twin 5 year olds!
I sent it over to you. 🙂
Shalini Sharma says
Akshay Kumar says
Thanks for sharing this information