Those playgrounds at Kindergarten are pretty big and pretty unsupervised compared to the ones we have at Leap Academy with a 1:10 or 1:12 adult-to-child ratio. It’s our duty to prepare our kids socially and emotionally for the world that they will be presented with after they leave our walls. In as much, it seems our natural tendency to step in and resolve conflicts as parents and teachers. However, I wonder if this serves them well. Here are a few steps you can take as a parent to help your child navigate conflict autonomously when you see it happen, or if it’s happening in your household.
1. If it’s not dangerous, take a second to step back and observe.
There are some things you might look for during this time. Is the conflict due to a material object? Is the conflict due to somebody wanting more attention? How is your child reacting to the conflict? Is he or she looking to you to intervene or asking you for assistance? If not, it might be wise to observe a little bit longer. Children learn best by doing and experimenting. Sometimes it might be safe to let them try some techniques and reflect with them afterwards.
2. Encourage your child to use a strong, big-kid voice to express what he or she wants to happen next.
So often we teach children to be kind, and we should. However, we also want them to be able to express their needs and wants in a tough situation. Being hit, kicked, or pushed is not a time to say, “No, thank you.” Let’s reserve teaching children to use that phrase for peas and stuffing at Thanksgiving, or when a friend asks to play with them and they don’t much feel like it.
While it is consistent with typical development that children experiment with hitting, kicking, and biting, we want them to trend towards understanding the seriousness of these actions as they grow up. As an adult, if another person wants to touch you, they must ask first. This is the lesson I want our Leap Academy children walking into Elementary school with. As such, in any conflict that rises above a level of “Hey, do you want to play with me?” we want them to use their strong, big kid voices. No whining. Not quiet or passive. “Stop! No! I don’t like that! Give me my toy back!” In my house, as my two-year-old son is starting to test the limits with his four-year-old sister, I ask her to try this technique twice before asking for help. When she struggles to maintain that strong voice and slips into the sad, whining one, we practice together. I get down on her level, look her in the eye, gently touch her shoulder, and say, “Let’s practice that!” It’s through this connection that I hope we are developing a bond for the future that will lead us to deeper discussions when the conflicts become more serious and complex.
3. Ask an adult for help.
If a child has attempted twice to resolve the conflict with strong words, and has not been successful, time to ask an adult for help. It is at this point in my own house that I might get down and intervene. However, oftentimes I am able to offer a suggestion that might help. Some suggestions include finding an item to trade in the event of an argument over a toy, or setting a timer to share.
It’s through this early work that we are developing lifelong social skills and setting them up for success in Elementary school and beyond. Certainly as we help them develop their own autonomy, we will help them raise their self esteem and continue to be the happy, healthy, children that we all want them to become, and helping our kids navigate conflict is just one way to begin to do exactly that..