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As a clinical psychologist, published author, and mother to two cheeky young children, I get it. I’ve spent YEARS researching and filtering through the noise online, so you don’t have to.
In this blog, I’m going to answer some specific questions I’ve received from parents about conflict resolution.
The first question I received was from a mom who has a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. She said she often finds the 3-year-old will bring toys up to the counters or the tables because their play is interrupted by the 1-year-old who wants to join in. But the 1-year-old doesn’t know how to and ends up interrupting the 3-year-old’s play.
This is a common situation.
I had this happen many times between my two kiddos. They’re 15 months apart, but for a while, Jayla, the youngest one, would come in and interrupt her sister Jaliyah’s play.
It’s okay for them to go to other places like counters and tables so that they can play more in-depth. We want to provide our children with plenty of opportunities to dive into their play because we understand that play is their form of work and their highest form of learning.
So when it’s constantly being interrupted, then essentially their learning is being interrupted. Give permission to your 3-year-old to play on their own and get their own space so their play is not interrupted.
The other thing is that you can also help your 3-year-old learn some assertiveness and some communication with the 1-year-old. It may not always work at this phase for the 1-year-old, but you can begin to give them words to use.
So, for example, if they’re working on a tower and the 1-year-old is about to come and knock it over, and the 3-year-old is saying, “No, no, no.” You can say something like…
It’s important to give our children the language they need to communicate with others about what they need and what their wishes are.
This will help the 3-year-old learn how to set boundaries and express their needs and their wants. And it will help teach the younger sibling as well too.
Of course, this won’t always work. But it’s important to teach them the language to speak up for themselves.
Children can begin the process of conflict resolution around 2. But your child will need a lot of your help. They’ll need you to give them a lot of the words on what to say in the beginning.
This is a skill your child needs to thrive in school and in other settings where they need to speak up for themselves, hear what others have to say, and then come up with a solution that hopefully works for everybody.
Another question I received was from a mom who has a 15-month-old, and she wanted to know what to do when they become aggressive with the toys. I’m assuming it’s something like throwing the toy or hitting somebody else with a toy or something of that nature.
So around 15 months, much of the discipline and limit setting is going to be through our guidance because their comprehension and language are not as developed as older kids. Plus, they’re not able on a cognitive level to resolve conflict. So you’re going to want to guide them through that. For example…
If it’s a situation where you’re not able to provide a different or an alternative solution and you need them to stop, your best solution is to say something like, “I’m going to help you.” Then you can either guide their behavior or remove the toy and explain to them it’s not appropriate.
Now if they’re hitting somebody with a toy, of course, you’re going to want to intervene. And you can say something like, “Oh, I’m going to help you. I can’t let you hurt. Toys are not for hurting.” And then you’ll want to put your hands out, put your body in between, and help redirect their behavior.
Another question I received was about how to be comfortable commenting versus intervening during conflict.
I love this question because it already shows you’re mindful of the fact that more and more you want to take a step back and let your children work through the conflict because you understand conflict is normal. Throughout the day, you and your children will get plenty of opportunities to practice navigating conflict.
The basic rule is that as long as the behavior is not dangerous or aggressive, then it’s okay to take a step back. You know that it’s not an emergency, and they don’t need your immediate help.
Now that doesn’t mean that you don’t get involved or you don’t help guide them through the conflict. But it means you don’t need to be so quick to intervene and interject with what’s happening in the moment.
So all you do – as long as it’s not dangerous or aggressive – is describe what you see…
And then you can take it a step further by prompting them and say…
If they continue to test that boundary, you can say…
If they have trouble stopping the behavior, that’s your cue they’re going to need you to step in and give some more guidance and redirect it.
I received another question that was what if they refuse to solve the conflict or there’s no resolution in sight.
Again, as much as possible, just describe what you see and then open it up.
Sometimes our kids are going to need some ideas to help in either coming up with a resolution that’s going to work for both kiddos or for helping them communicate with the other child about their needs and wants. So there are times you’re going to have to feel it out and see how to proceed.
Let’s say both children are fighting for one toy. You’re going to want to describe what you see in a very neutral, non-judgmental way. And remember, as long as it’s not dangerous or aggressive, we don’t need to intervene and stop the behavior. It’s okay for them to have this push and pull with the toy as long as no one is getting hurt.
You can say something like…
If we give it some time, our kiddos will come to some solution, whether that’s the one child backing away from the toy and letting the other one have it. And then, if that’s the case…
I received another question from a mom who has a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. And her question was about how she can help her 1-year-old navigate these situations so that she’s not always getting on her 3-year-old.
I love that she’s so aware of not wanting to have high expectations of her 3-year-old. And she doesn’t want to take sides.
At 1-year-old, they’re a little too young to begin the conflict resolution process because their communication and comprehension are not as developed. But keep in mind when they turn 2, you can begin the process of conflict resolution.
But for the 1-year-old, it’s going to be a lot of redirection and guidance of their behaviors.
You can still explain out loud what’s happening. For example, the 3-year-old is building a tall tower, and the 1-year-old is coming up to the tower. The 3-year-old is getting upset about it possibly getting knocked over. You can…
Now, of course, this is not always possible.
So let’s say the 1-year-old is coming up to the tower and the 3-year-old is like, “No!” The 1-year-old pushes the tower over, then you will want to describe what you see:
It’s really important to convey to your 3-year-old that you understand where they’re coming from and that you know that this is frustrating.
Children can start understanding the conflict resolution process as early as 2 years old. Keep in mind for kiddos 6 and younger, they’re going to need your presence there more times than not. They’re going to need your help with having the language to assert themselves and to resolve the conflict successfully.
First, ask questions in the beginning and observe what you see. This helps normalize and validate their feelings while also giving them permission to assert themselves.
You’re also going to want to bring both of the kiddos close together and get down on their level. You can offer some physical touch to let them both know we’re in this together.
Next, you’re going to want to identify everybody’s feelings. Describe what you see and try to create a safe place for them with both verbal and non-verbal cues. Because if your children sense that you’re choosing sides or that you’re angry or annoyed with what’s happening, they will not feel comfortable talking about what’s going on.
For kids younger than six, you’re going to want to invite them to tell the other child what they didn’t like.
For older kids, you can say something like, “Tell them how you feel.”
If the other child has trouble respecting that boundary, then they will need your help. That’s your sign to connect with them, validate their feelings, and then try to redirect them to a different activity.
If you need more help with sibling conflict, I have a free workshop, How to Get Your Kids to Listen Without Yelling, where we work through discipline and setting consequences with intention and respect. I provide you with the tools you need to create a happy home where cooperation happens without the struggle.
Rooting for you,
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As a clinical psychologist, published author, and mother to three young children, I get it. I’ve spent YEARS researching and filtering through the noise online, so you don’t have to.