I stood on the playground with my coworker. We casually walked around as we supervised the five toddlers with us. It was a quiet day and we were enjoying the break from our usual 10-12 children.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my coworker retrieving a doll stroller out of the shed. One doll stroller! She placed it on the tarmac, latched the door, and then stood there eyeing the children nearby.
At first I was alarmed. What was she thinking? Why would she bring out just one stroller when we have two? These kids are going to be at each other in no time!
I approached my colleague and asked why she brought out only one stroller. I made sure to also share my concerns about the children fighting.
Her response was short and curt, “We have five children between the two of us. Of all the days for me to bring out one stroller, today is the day.”
An argument almost immediately broke out between two children and she expectantly swooped in to mediate.
I ruminated on her words. The epiphany was great.
She wanted to teach these children how to have healthy conflict.
She intended on teaching the skill of conflict resolution on a day when she had ample time to facilitate the dispute.
This lesson that I learned in child care many years ago has recently come into action in my home… I cause conflict between my kids.
I Cause Conflict Between My Kids
My children fight. This is natural. Personalities clash and conflicts arise. This is the nature of having siblings. However, recently I’ve felt overwhelmed by the process of navigating these conflicts. The fights occurred while I was making supper and my hands were covered with raw chicken or the arguments would take place in the grocery store. These are not ideal settings to work through issues. Then, I recalled the playground scenario with my coworker and decided to implement similar opportunities to teach conflict resolution to my children.
Before I share this with you, I want to emphasize that just because I have an early childhood education degree does not mean I’m an expert when it comes to parenting. I apply some principles at home, then through trial and error, I discover if they work. This process of facilitating conflict currently works for us. This does not mean that it would work for you.
Planning for conflict between my kids
Here are the steps that I use to teach conflict resolution to my children:
1 – I decide what the conflict will be about. For example, I present bubble solution with just one bubble blower.
2 – I brainstorm all the ways my children might respond to the conflict, then I think about the ways I would like to respond to them. (i.e. “H” tries to grab the bubble blower from “G’s” hand; I wait to see if “G” says anything, if not, I intervene by saying, “It looks like G is using the bubble wand right now.”).
I find that by writing these scenarios down and by thinking about my responses, I’m more comfortable mediating issues when we’re actually in the midst of the conflict.
3 – I schedule the time that I want this conflict to occur. Things I keep in mind when scheduling the conflict:
- When is an “easy” time in our household?
- When do I feel most well rested, positive, and patient.
I find 9 am (shortly after breakfast) is an ideal time to plan a conflict between my children. Everyone is usually content, well fed, and well rested.
4 – I initiate the conflict and work through it with my children. I find it’s important to not give up. Persistence is critical.
5 – I evaluate the process shortly after I navigate the conflict. I reflect on the following:
- How did the children respond?
- What strategies worked best?
- What worked in the end?
- What would I do differently next time?
Perhaps you’re thinking you would like to try this with your own children. here are some other suggestions.
Other tips and suggestions
- Once you’ve had a successful mediation of a conflict, make sure to use that example when navigating other conflicts. (i.e. “Remember that time you were fighting over one bubble blower? Do you remember what you did to solve that problem?”)
- If they have troubles recalling how they solved a previous problem, you can offer some gentle reminders (i.e. “I remember you blew the bubbles and she popped them; then she had a turn blowing the bubbles while you popped them).
- I wouldn’t recommend doing this more than once every few weeks. It takes time, energy, and commitment to the process.
- Be gentle, especially if things don’t go well. This is why the evaluation of the process is so important. Ask yourself what will you do differently next time to ensure better chances for success?
- If you don’t have two children, perhaps you could enlist the help of a friend. Just make sure that only ONE of the adults is conducting the mediation of the conflict. More than one could be overwhelming and confusing for the children.
As I said previously, this is something that is working for us but it might not work for everyone. Each family has their own personalities and approaches.