Even very young children are capable of conflict resolution. They have a strong sense of justice which is very much black and white. When we adults encounter conflict, we feel required to take into account tact, diplomacy, political correctness – all of which can cloud the issue. Children have no such limitations. They see conflict clearly as right and wrong and have no compunction in stating their case.
When adults feel wronged, very often their first concern is not with getting a solution to the situation, but more with being heard. They want to state their case and explain why they feel upset. Children feel the same way. Offering a solution to the problem can be perceived as a slight or a dismissal of their hurt feelings. Children, like us, need to vent.
In our classrooms, we have a peace table: one small table with two cushions on either side. Disputes usually arise between two children and, when this happens, we suggest that they go to the peace table. The child with the complaint puts his hand on the table to indicate that he ‘has the table’ and it’s his turn to speak. He is shown how to express his feelings and explain why he is angry. When he is finished speaking, the other child puts her hand on the table and it is then her turn to respond. The children are expected to stay at the table until both of them have expressed their feelings. At first, there may be no resolution, but that is fine. The initial goal is not that they resolve the conflict, but rather that they have the experience of trying to. After having this experience, they can and do come to reasonable agreements and we very often see hugs at the end of peace table time.
As with every aspect of your child’s development, the key is to hold back. If you see your child arguing with another child, don’t jump in immediately to “fix” the situation. Stand by and listen to what is going on. Of course, if it appears that the situation is escalating and there is a likelihood of a child getting hurt, then you must step in. Otherwise, leave the children to handle the situation. You will often find yourself surprised at how well they handle conflict.