One night a few weeks ago when the girls were taking a bath, they got into a tiff over a bath toy. My 2-year old wanted the toy that my older daughter was playing with. My older daughter immediately responded by asking her sister to play “Rock-Paper-Scissors” to see who could have the toy, which was a pleasant surprise. My toddler is a little too young to play the game, which my kindergartner realized and said “You can be scissors and I’ll be paper, so that you can have the toy this time.”
What I appreciated about this episode was that my daughter knew to apply a strategy she learned at school to resolve their conflict. I did and said nothing and simply watched their entire interaction unfold. My kindergartner didn’t give in to her sister’s demands right away, but they also didn’t end up in a full tantrum fight…at least on this particular occasion.
Many teachers like my daughter’s kindergarten teacher are wonderful guides for teaching youngsters constructive ways to find solutions to problems, but these aren’t always easy to remember as parents. As a result of our bath episode, I realized that it would be beneficial to practice more conflict resolution skills together, which could be a great ongoing practice of self-kindness and kindness toward each other. If we can practice the conflict resolution skills with some regularity when the girls are calm and collected, they may have a better shot at pulling out more peaceful resolution strategies when they are in the middle of a heated fight.
Pause and Regulate
First and foremost, a key foundational aspect to conflict resolution is being ability to pause and regulate. Through mindfulness practices such as breathing and taking a time-in, we can teach our children how to center themselves vs. remaining in a reactionary mode. In other words, we want to prevent the “amygdala from getting hijacked,” or if it has been overtaken and they have moved into tantrum mode, we want our children to first be able to come back into a state of calm before trying to resolve their conflict or else likely nothing will get resolved.
Expressing Our Own Emotions
Often in conflicts we blame the other for the conflict instead of identifying our own feelings and needs. This is very true of arguments I’ve been in as an adult, but it starts at a young age. As Marshall Rosenberg writes in his book, “Non-Violent Communication: A Language for Life,” “we are trained to be ‘other-directed’ rather than to be in contact with ourselves.” If we can instead change the blame game and communicate our own emotions (e.g., “I feel sad that you took away my toy” or “I’m upset that I didn’t get a turn”), it allows for greater understanding and empathy. Rosenberg also states in his book that by understanding our own feelings and needs, we can start to recognize that “our feelings result from how we choose to receive what others say and do…we are led to accept responsibility for what we do to generate our own feelings.”
Changing from the “YOU” to the “I” perspective requires a keen focus on our children’s emotional intelligence. Helping kids build their emotional vocabulary is a good start. We can use things like Mood Rings or the Dr. Seuss book “My Many Colored Days” to start conversations about the “color” our kids are feeling in a given situation. For instance, blue could be used to express sadness, or red could be used to express energy. There are tons of ways to help kids identify and express emotions, so we will be experimenting with these tactics in the near future. More blog posts to come. 🙂
A Few Fun Games
In addition to mindfulness and self-expression practices, we are also trying a few creative strategies to objectively and quickly resolve a dispute. Obviously, as our bath episode would indicate, Rock-Paper-Scissors is a favorite in our household. Here are a few others we are experimenting with:
- Coin Toss
- Dice – highest number wins
- Pick the Shortest Straw
- Share Timer
- Alternate setting the timer so that each person gets a turn for an equal amount of time. Kids also love watching the timer countdown on the iPhone or with an hourglass.
It would be great to build a resource of tools for parents and educators. What are some conflict resolution strategies that have worked with your kids?