Help Your Child Learn to Resolve Conflicts in a Healthy, Appropriate Way

Teddy and Brian, both 2-year-olds, love the book area of their day-care. Teddy picks up a big book about dinosaurs. When Brian sees this neat book, he can’t help himself—he wants it, too! So he grabs it from Teddy. Uh-oh, a battle is now underway with “Mine”, “No! Mine!” and a few tears. Miss Kelly steps over to help the boys. “Brian, I know you like the dinosaur book and you are sad, but Teddy was playing with it. It’s not nice to grab it from him and make him cry. How about if we look at it together? I’ll hold the book, Teddy can turn the page, and you can make the “Roar” sound when we get to the big dino page!”

children toddler conflict wyoming child development resources

Around this age, toddlers are developing an awareness of “self” and sharing can be especially hard. They know what they want when they want it, but their brains are not yet fully capable of understanding another person’s feelings or point of view. In addition, self-control is also just beginning to develop. Though toddlers can understand what you mean when you say not to take something from others, they have a hard time keeping themselves from acting on their impulses. Think how hard it can be for you, as a mature adult, to stop yourself from eating that chocolate chip cookie you are craving when you have decided to go on a diet.

Adults’ impulse control gets tested from time to time; for toddlers, the test occurs many times a day. The ability to exercise greater self-control comes with time, brain maturation, practice, and with the help of caring adults. By helping very young children name their feelings, and letting them see and practice ways to control their impulses, they learn over time how to do it themselves. This helps them learn how to resolve conflicts on their own.

Here are some ways you can help them control their urges and resolve conflicts:
Five-month-old Jeremy is laying on his tummy playing on the floor at home. He reaches across the blanket he’s on for the squeaky duck toy. It is just out of his reach. His dad begins to pick it up and give it to him, but realizing Jeremy isn’t fussing, he decides to wait a second. Jeremy is determined to get that duck! He stretches his hand again and this time barely touches it. His dad gives the duck just enough of a nudge to provide Jeremy a little help. One more reach…Got it! Jeremy grabs the duck toy and happily begins squeaking it himself.

Jeremy’s dad just practiced a concept many child development specialists call “scaffolding.” Scaffolding happens when you follow your child’s lead and provide just enough support to challenge him to the next level without overwhelming him with frustration. Jeremy’s dad could have handed the toy to his son, but he stopped, looked, and thought about what Jeremy was doing. Jeremy was trying out his big and small muscles and seeing what he could do. He was also learning about what he would need to do to get something he wanted. Jeremy’s dad realized he could let Jeremy explore the situation a little and then provide just enough help to let him experience the success of using his new skills of reaching and grabbing. Helping babies learn in this way lets them explore what they are capable of doing and also lets them know you are there to support their efforts.

Adapted from “Tips for Promoting Social-Emotional Development.” © Zero to Three