Whether we’re three or thirty-three, conflict is a part of everyday life. The sooner we help our children develop healthy conflict resolution strategies, the better. As parents, we are the first problem-solving teachers our children encounter. That pedestal we sit upon in these early years informs the words and actions of our little ones even before they can form the phrases or make the gestures themselves. Our children’s first cues will come from the examples we provide. By handling conflict in a calm and diplomatic fashion at home, we are providing a positive baseline for building the peaceful conflict resolution strategies our children will use in preschool and beyond.
Predictability and routines are very comforting, so when conflict arises it can be the catalyst to a downward spiral. Children who have strategies to call upon at these times are more likely to find solutions and resume activities before conflict becomes overwhelming. Taking the time to work through and explain conflict resolution strategies with our kids is very helpful. At the pre-k level and during those early years, simplicity is key. Focusing on the 3 Ws of conflict resolution offers a beginning strategy for helping our kids to become conflict conquerors. The three-step strategy of Words, Wait, & Walk will go a long way towards keeping the peace. Step one alone may solve the problem, but it’s important to have steps two and three to call upon if need be.
- Words: Always start by using your Words. Never use your body or other objects to show upset or frustration (e.g., no hitting, pushing, or throwing of toys). Make sure your Words are not spoken in a loud voice, and share your feelings/reasoning. “I want to play with the blocks by myself,” or “I was here first.” Words alone may solve the problem, but step two cannot be overlooked if they don’t.
- Wait: Always Wait for the other person to respond with his/her Words. They may share a good reason or solution with you. “I have to go home soon,” and “I would really like to play blocks too.” Waiting may also give the other person quiet time to think over your words and accept your solution.
- Walk: If you do not like the way Words or Wait are resolving the conflict, then you can Walk and find something else to do. You can also Walk away and get a parent, teacher, or other adult to help you solve the problem.
By sharing this easy three-step strategy, we are preparing our kids for positive interactions with others and a way to work through their feelings and frustrations when conflicts arise. Janet Lansbury brings up several good points in her Helping Toddlers Resolve Conflict blog post. While it may seem easier to step in and resolve the conflicts for them, it’s important that we let children work through strategies and determine a resolution themselves. Allowing them to become independent conflict conquerors will give them the confidence to handle difficult situations on their own now and in the futures. If step three of the 3Ws comes into play, we need to guide our kids through the process of arriving at a resolution rather than supplying the resolution ourselves. If we have our children use the strategy at home when conflicts arise and/or role play situations that can occur with other children at school, the park, or play groups, we are providing a positive foundation for resolving conflicts.
We can’t control what goes on in other households, so we can’t expect our little ones to have flawless encounters with everyone they meet. Preparing them with peaceful and respectful conflict resolution strategies is a must. We have to carry the mind-set that it takes a village to raise our children and ensure that our kids hit the playground with the Words, Wait, & Walk mantra to set good examples for all the little eyes and ears that are always in tune!