Stephanie Agnew, Assistant Director of Parents Place, offers tips for resolving conflicts between children. Learn more about how our parent coaching services can help your family

Conflict resolution and problem solving are two of the most important skills we can teach our children. Think about it … Being able to work out a problem with a peer and come to a reasonable resolution is something that helps us in work and personal relationships throughout our lives.

Teaching kids conflict resolution strategies early on can equip them with invaluable skills for the future. Simple activities like talking through disagreements, identifying solutions together, and compromising when necessary allow children to practice resolving conflicts in a constructive way. As they grow older, these skills will translate into improved communication, anger management, and problem solving abilities. Practicing conflict resolution for kids is about more than just preventing fights—it builds critical life skills.

In this article, we will cover several key topics related to parenting young children—the importance of playtime for development, getting out into nature regularly, making mealtimes about more than just food, and teaching conflict resolution skills. As the central figures in a child’s world, parents will have a unique opportunity to lay the foundation for growth, learning, health, and happiness. By being thoughtful about how we spend time with our kids, we can have an enormously positive impact that will last a lifetime.

Understanding the Importance of Conflict Resolution for Kids

Teaching children how to resolve conflicts constructively is a fundamental life skill that will benefit them at every stage of life. By learning to communicate effectively, identify solutions, and compromise when needed, kids build empathy and cooperation. These abilities allow them to navigate social interactions, prevent fights with siblings or classmates, complete group projects at school, and eventually succeed in the workplace. Conflicts are inevitable, but when equipped with conflict resolution strategies, children can face disagreements with emotional intelligence and maturity. Skills like listening to understand another perspective, expressing needs calmly, and finding a mutually satisfactory resolution lay the groundwork for healthy relationships in childhood that last into adulthood. Whether at home, school, or eventual careers, the ability to resolve conflicts will prove invaluable again and again.

6 Tips to Teach Conflict Resolution for Kids

Here are a few tips to help you teach problem solving skills with children starting as young as three years old. Taking a little time to follow these steps will translate into much less time bickering and fighting and more time to do the fun things. Not only that, but you will be teaching skills that will last a lifetime and help your children and students be successful in the future!

Step 1—Neutralize the situation

If anyone is hysterical or has been hurt, the first thing you must do is to help them calm down and feel better. No one can problem solve when they are hurt or emotional. You may also need to remove the source of the conflict temporarily until the problem in solved. If two children are fighting over a toy for example, say I’m going to hold this while we work this out. If a child has lost control and resorted to physical aggression, he/she may need to be removed from the situation and given some time to cool off. There may also need to be a consequence for the aggression, but it is still very important to come back to solve the problem. If you don’t solve the problem the conflicts will just keep happening.

Step 2—Gather data

When both children are calm and ready to talk, listen to each of them tell you what happened from their own point of view. If a child is too young to explain well, it is fine to do some paraphrasing for them. Make sure both children feel heard by you and by each other. Don’t think about where to lay blame for the conflict, but rather how to solve the problem. Here are some helpful questions to use:

What happened? How did you feel when you…? How did you feel when your friend/sibling…?

Why did you …? What happened then?

Step 3—Define the problem

Often children have misinterpreted what their friend was trying to accomplish and it is easier to solve the problem when you all understand what really happened. State the problem acknowledging both, or all the children’s needs. Here is a suggestion for what to say:

It sounds like you wanted to … and you wanted to … What should we do so that everyone can be happy?

Step 4—Generate lots of ideas

Help the children think of as many ideas as possible. Don’t pass judgement on the feasibility of the ideas at this step. The real benefit of this step is the ability to think of alternatives. Remember to:

Write down the ideas—it makes it feel more important to the kids.

Encourage different ideas.

Focus on the children’s ideas, but if they are young, it is okay to give some suggestions.

Review the problem to help the children stay on track.

Step 5—Evaluate the ideas

Ask the children what they think might happen if they choose a specific idea or another. Let them know if you think an idea is unsafe or really inappropriate, but resist passing judgement based on your own sense of fairness. Ask the kids to think about if an idea can really work for everyone. If no ideas seem to be acceptable for everyone, talk about how to change an idea to make it more acceptable.

Step 6—Decide on an Action Plan

List all the alternatives that are being considered. Remember that we need people who are happy to compromise or even give in occasionally. If you are worried that one child is being intimidated or taken advantage of by a more strong-willed child, check in with the more accommodating child.

Say something like: Are you sure it is okay with you to do it this way? You don’t have to let him/her have it her/his way. Or Does this really work for everyone?

If all the children are really okay with a plan—even if you don’t think it is entirely fair, let it go.

Follow through to make sure the children stick to the plan. Even if it seems like they might not care anymore, check in and make sure they know that the follow through is available to them. For example, if children decide to take turns with a toy and by the time it is the second child’s turn, he/she is busy doing something else, it is still important for the first child to offer the toy. If you don’t have that follow through the kids will lose faith in the process.

Be sure to congratulate the children for solving the problem!

You may be thinking, How can I possibly do this with every single little conflict my children get into? It must take so much time and we have to keep on schedule and can’t stop everything to do this all the time!

Believe me, I realize that you can’t do this for every situation, every day, but I promise that the more you do it, the better your children will get at doing it, the faster they will resolve their conflicts, and the fewer big upsets they will have.

Conflict Resolution Activities for Kids

Interactive Role-Playing

Practicing conflict resolution through role-play allows kids to apply skills in a safe environment. Have children act out disagreements they may face, like fighting over a toy, getting into an argument on the playground, or wanting to play different games:

Mom: Okay kids, today I want you to practice what to do if you both want the same toy. Aiden, you’ll be playing with the red truck when your sister Emma comes over and grabs it from you because she wants to play with it too.

Aiden (holding the toy): Vroom vroom! I love this red truck!

Emma (reaching for the truck): Give me the truck! I want to play with it!

Mom: Great job acting it out so far! Now Aiden, what would you say next to tell Emma how you feel?

Aiden (pulling truck away): Hey! I was playing with that truck first! It’s mine!

Emma: But I want to play trucks too!

Mom: Good expressing your feelings. Now try to listen and take turns or compromise.

Emma: You’ve had it for a long time. Can I have a turn in a few minutes?

Aiden: I guess you can play when I’m done driving it up the ramp. Here you can use the blue truck for now.

Emma: Okay, thanks! We can race them!

Role-playing simple scenarios helps kids practice conflict resolution step-by-step. With guidance, they learn constructive communication and compromise.

Storytelling and Discussion

Popular children’s books often provide excellent illustrations of conflict resolution that we can then discuss with kids. Stories like The Rainbow Fish, by Marcus Pfister, which centers on a fish who learns to share his shiny scales with others, or Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Henkes, about a young mouse who is bullied over her name, spark thoughtful dialogue. When reading such stories, pause and ask children open-ended questions to guide the discussion, like “Why did that make the other character sad?” or “What are some things they could have done differently?” Prompt them to reflect on the perspectives of various characters and alternatives that could have prevented the conflict altogether. Connect behaviors in the story to children’s own experiences by asking about a time they argued over a toy or felt left out at school. Discussing the conflict resolution process in books reinforces these critical skills for kids’ own interpersonal problems and builds empathy. With guidance, stories become meaningful conflict resolution lessons.

Art-Based Expression

Expressive art activities like drawing pictures and making puppets allow children to give tangible forms to complex emotions surrounding conflicts. Provide art supplies like markers, clay, and craft materials for children to design puppets or illustrate a recent argument. The creative process enables them to safely explore and externalize feelings of anger, hurt, or frustration. Display and discuss the artwork together – identifying root causes of conflicts promotes understanding. If two siblings made puppets of themselves arguing, act out alternative endings where they build bridges. Visualizing positive conflict resolution through art translates these vital skills into their real lives. With guidance, creating engaging hands-on projects opens the door to teach children constructive communication.

Conflict Resolution Skills for Kids

Effective Communication

Children need guidance practicing ‘I’ statements to express their own feelings and needs while respecting others. For example, “I felt hurt when you wouldn’t share toys with me” opens discussion better than accusing statements like “You are so selfish!” Teach active listening techniques as well, like making eye contact, summarizing the speaker’s viewpoint, and asking thoughtful questions to understand perspectives. If one child says “I want to play with the red truck right now,” the other can practice active listening by responding “So you really want a turn with that truck, let me think about a way we can both play.” 

Empathy and Understanding

Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is critical for constructively resolving conflicts between children.  like guided role-playing build empathy. If one child wants to draw but the other wants to paint, have them act out understanding desires on both sides, while compromising. Puppet shows, stories, and reflective drawing can similarly help them identify perspectives and emotions apart from their own. With care and practice, children realize the power of seeing conflict through another’s eyes and can apply these empathetic insights when problems inevitably arise.

Problem-Solving Strategies

When conflicts arise between children, guide them to brainstorm possible solutions before reacting. Having kids list out multiple resolution ideas side-by-side then weighing the pros and cons of each choice promotes critical thinking and reasoning skills. Useful steps include:

  • Asking both sides to suggest solutions and write them down (taking turns sharing without criticism builds listening skills)
  • Discussing the expected outcomes and impact of each proposed solution – will the conflict truly be resolved? Will both parties’ needs be reasonably met?
  • Choosing the mutually beneficial solution that satisfies everyone involved to the greatest extent. Compromise is key.

Practicing this process of creative brainstorming, evaluating options, and reaching a “win-win” resolution equips kids with invaluable skills for managing interpersonal problems both now and later in life. With time, they can become adept mediators and level-headed solution-seekers when faced with peer conflicts.

Conclusion: Cultivating Harmony and Understanding

The ability to resolve conflicts constructively is an incredibly valuable skill that will serve children throughout their lives. By guiding kids through communication practices, role playing, discussion of teachable stories, and creative activities, we equip them to face disagreements with empathy, emotional intelligence and compromise.

Teaching conflict resolution requires patience and persistence, but will enable children to stand up for themselves while respecting others, articulate their needs and listen in return, and seek solutions rather than revenge. As we reinforce these practices through modeling, praise, and gentle correction, children build the foundation for healthy relationships in all areas of their lives.

Mastering conflict resolution leads to greater self-confidence, harmony with others, and success in pursuing their goals. For those seeking support and additional resources in this critical arena, please reach out for a child assessment consultation or parental coaching.

By regularly cultivating constructive communication and peaceful conflict resolution, we can have an enormously positive impact on children’s present and future wellbeing.

Seeking more advice handing conflicts with your child, tween, or teen? Schedule a free consultation with our expert coaches and clinicians.