While these are not exactly 'activities', the following steps are how you can help children resolve conflict. Give them a go, you might just be surprised! For some of the background on these approaches, check out our info here.
Without going too ‘Steve Irwin’ on the situation, carefully creeping up on a pair of frenzied crocodiles (however appropriate that analogy might seem) it is crucial that, having observed what’s going on, you approach with a calm voice. Recognise that this is a learning opportunity and use an inquisitive tone. Things you could say are, ‘There seems to be a bit of a problem here, let’s see what we can do about it.’ Or ‘Do we need help sorting this problem out?’
Get down low
This is a key point that works for almost every interaction with children, but especially when their tempers are high. When you first approach the child having interrupted the conflict, try to position yourself below the child’s eyeline. By doing so, you are immediately removing yourself as a threat and allowing the child to be open to reason. Without adding stress to the situation, you allow your child to effectively use their executive functioning helping with making rational decisions.
Acknowledge their feelings
Describe the feelings that you can see the children experiencing. In doing so, you are allowing the child to feel heard and respected. Their feelings and the way they are acting right now is important to them. Combatting or showing little interest in the emotions will heighten them. They will feel they need to display more in order to be understood. You can say things like, ‘Your face is telling me that are cross, is that how you are feeling?’ or, ‘I can see you are feeling cross.’
Express your own feelings
Expressing your own feelings about the conflict ensures that the children see that they are not alone in how they feel. ‘I get a bit mad when someone snatches my toys too’. Then you can acknowledge if your feelings change and become positive if the conflict is successfully resolved. This is an opportunity to model to the children that emotions are felt by everyone and are sometimes difficult and that that's ok.
Now’s the time for your inner Poirot to surface. Albeit a little more gentle and caring and with a bit less wax on the top lip. Ask open-ended questions to each child. Do this one at a time so you don’t open up another free-for-all. Find out each other’s story, fairly and without judgement. You should say things like, ‘Can you use your words to tell me what happened?’ or, ‘Can you tell me the story of what just happened?’
Restate the problem
Having taken on board what the children each say, repeat it back clearly to clarify the problem and check with the children that you have got it right. Make sure you try and rephrase any hurtful language. The last thing you want, when you’ve been helping to resolve this conflict like a champion, is for your child’s playdate to go home and tell their parents you called them a ‘snotty know-it-all’. Say things like, ‘…wanted to play with the car but then you wanted it too, is that right?
Ask for ideas
Here’s where the magic happens. You’ll honestly be surprised at how capable the children are at finding reasonable solutions. Suggest a discussion between the two and ask things like, ‘How could we sort this out?’ or, ‘What do you think we could do to make everyone happy? You might find that they just can’t agree, though, at which point you should offer some fair solutions like, ‘Why don’t we let your friend have it for 2 minutes then we’ll let you have your turn’.
Everyone at this point should be a lot more calm and willing to cooperate. Once you’ve reached a fair conclusion, congratulate them for doing so well and being so nice to their friends.
Follow it up
The solutions might need a little clarifying in practice. If your spider-senses are tingling and you can see some trouble ahead, don’t be afraid to pop your head in with things like, ‘Use your words to tell him/her what you wanted to do.’ Or ‘Remember what you guys came up with…’