With the correct guidance from parents, even very young children can learn basic conflict resolution skills.
It is normal for young children to experience difficulty with sharing, taking turns and identifying roles within groups when playing together. It is important for them to practise the skills needed to resolve conflict in order for it to become second nature for them throughout their lives.
Are you one of these parents on the playground?
All parents handle playground incidents differently. Some parents are relaxed and allow their children to play freely on the playground and sort out their own fights, while others keep a watchful eye and get involved at the slightest sign of danger or conflict.
- Helicopter parents tend to hover nervously over their child on the playground, in order to ensure no harm comes to them in what they perceive to be a dangerous environment. For example, as these parents anticipate problems they will stand right under the jungle gym so that they are close enough to intervene should an incident involving their child occur. Helicopter parents intend to protect their child from playground incidents; however, this may prevent them from developing necessary problem-solving and risk-assessment skills, which results in poor decision-making and taking bigger risks in their teenage years.
Related Article: What Teens Need Most From Their Parents
- Lawnmower parents tend to make sure that nothing stands in the way of their child’s success and that they have a smooth, problem-free journey while achieving this. For example, these parents will be excessively aggressive if their child is involved in a playground incident where someone or something is perceived to be a threat. Their child generally struggles to stand up for themselves and become dependent on adult support. They don’t learn that their actions have consequences as they are always rescued and therefore never learn from their mistakes. Lawnmower parents do everything for their child thereby implying that they are not good enough to succeed themselves.
What can you do when there is conflict on the playground?
When conflict arises, it is important that the children involved get the opportunity to tell their side of the story, while the others listen without interrupting. Once each child has had their turn to speak, the parent can then simplify the problem for the children in a sentence or two in order to state the problem clearly. For example, if Jessica and Natalie were fighting over a swing, one could say “Jessica and Natalie, it sounds like you both would like a turn on this swing. Is that right?” The children should then be given an opportunity to suggest a solution to the problem, even if one or more children have the same idea, for example “What do you boys/girls think we can do to fix the problem?”
Children should once again be reminded to listen while the others are talking. Next, facilitate a discussion whereby the group is encouraged to choose the best solution. Once an appropriate suggestion has been agreed upon, the children should be commended on working together to solve their problem. They are then free to go implement the chosen solution. Parents should observe the children playing to ensure that no further conflict arises. If the solution does not appear to be working, the group should be given the opportunity to renegotiate a different solution.
While it is normal for a young child to resort to physical means to get their way, some incidents may be more serious, especially if repeated by the same child. In this instance, it may be more beneficial for that child to be redirected to another activity on the playground, or in the case of severe actions such as biting, pinching, kicking or punching, the child should be removed from the play area and given time to think about their actions before returning to the play area, where they will continue to be monitored. It is also important that a child is accountable and apologises for their actions.
Children require repeated practice in order to develop conflict resolution skills. Conflict resolution is an important social skill that helps them become more aware of and sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. A child’s self-confidence is developed when they learn to solve their problems in a positive and assertive way. They develop valuable communication and listening skills while also learning to think creatively and evaluate solutions.
Written by: Natalie Brits (Grade 0 Teacher) and Jessica Spearman (Grade 000 Teacher) both at Crawford Pre-Primary North Coast