Almost 10 years and three kiddos later, I’ve played referee, negotiator, councillor, teacher and guide for my children when they argue with each other or their peers.
Imagine this, there’s been an argument or disagreement between two or more kids (this also works for adult relationships as well!), everyone is angry and sad. Everyone is blaming and no one is listening to each other.
I start by bringing the kids together saying, “No one is in trouble. We have a problem here that we all need to find a solution to, that’s all“. That’s an important intro! Immediately the tension diffuses and the kids are calmer, making them more receptive.
Then I follow these 4 steps, adapted from the teachings of Nonviolent Communication:
(1.) Each kid gets to explain their “feelings”, uninterrupted
Make sure you explain beforehand that when one person is talking, there’s no interrupting them. Then ask them to speak about their feelings vs. going into the details of what happened, which can turn into a slippery slope that tends to lead to blame and finger pointing. Rather, have them start their sentence with, “I feel that…” or “When you do that, it makes me feel this“. Stick with the feelings, not the details of the event!
After the first kid expresses their emotions, move to the next child, offering them an uninterrupted, safe place to explain their feelings. Younger kiddos may need help identifying their feelings so you could offer to help them to find the right words! What magic that will be for them as they get older, right?
(2.) Each kid acknowledges the other’s persons’ words out loud and in detail
This part is important. This ensures active listening is happening, that each child truly hears what the other one said. Often you get them repeating the words of the other child, which means they had to actively listen to get those details. YES! Immediately each child feels that their words and feelings are validated and accepted after the acknowledgment.
It might go something like this, “I understand that she doesn’t like it when I push her down the slide because it makes her feel scared“.
(3.) Each kid offers a solution for their part, expressing what they could do better next time
Owning your part vs. playing the blame game is VERY hard to do, even for adults. This is why this step is so crucial. It’s so easy to fall into the portal of blame, shame and finger pointing. But in the end, who cares which kid did the worse thing. Because if it wasn’t your kid this time that did the offensive behaviour, it will be one day! Trust me!
The focus shouldn’t be on what was worse, rather how can we find a solution so this event doesn’t happen again. YES!!! Let the child be creative with their solution without rushing or aiding them. Allowing the child to come up with their own solution will help ensure its success next time. And remember, the solution is focussed on the child correcting their own behaviour.
Some great solutions I’ve heard from kids are, “I could have used my words to ask why he was taking my stick instead of kicking him” or “I could take a breath first before just yelling at her to move out of the way” or “I could have tried to find an adult to help me instead of fighting with them“.
(4.) Each kid asks if there’s anything else that can be done to “make it right”. THIS CLOSES IT!!!
It drove me bananas when I would get my wrong-doing child to, “say sorry”. It was never heartfelt or authentic. They were just saying the words. They knew it, I knew it, but society tells us parents that we have to do something here, right? Yes, but it doesn’t HAVE to be by apology only.
I like to use the words, “Honey, you need to make it right“. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. This could involve making a card, offering a hug, giving a high-five or perhaps it is an apology, but the child chooses how to make it right, that’s important.
Lastly, you ask each child if there is anything else that they need from the other kid to feel better. I love this “close” to the situation. It ensures that the situation doesn’t get brought up again at a later date. This prevents fights from getting muddled by past events being brought into it! YES? Adults should really do this more, eh? Once confirmed that they don’t need anything else, then it’s closed and (hopefully) everyone walks away feeling empowered and content again.
Not all conflict resolution will go this perfectly, especially if it’s among peers you don’t know, like at a playground. That said, each time we do these four steps, your child will be able to pass through them more quickly.
As we know, life is full of challenges, difficult people and plain ol’ bad days! Instead of avoiding it, let your kids move through it. Empower them with these tools for communicating and watch them grow into amazing humans!
Lots of love,