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Susan Bruck
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Dealing with conflict

Monday, September 16, 2013

Dealing with Toddler Conflict:

The Seven Rules of the Toddler
1. If I like it, it is mine,
2. If it is in my hands it is mine.
3. If I can take it from you, it is mine.
4. If I had it a little while ago, it is mine.
5. If it is mine, it must never appear to be yours in any way.
6. If I am doing or building something, all of the pieces are mine.
7. If it looks just like mine, it is mine.

Part of the reason these rules are funny is that there is so much truth in them—a truth that often makes us uncomfortable. Here’s the bottom line—toddlers brains have not developed enough to feel empathy, and so they can’t really share. Usually around age 4, children are able to share sometimes and by age 6 they can share most of the time.

So does that mean that we just let them do whatever they want? That is not such a simple question to answer. It requires us to ask many questions, such as “How do young children learn?” and “How do I feel about conflict?”and “What do I really want for my child?” Most of us feel uncomfortable with it, but by removing all conflict or frustration for our children (as if we really could!), “parents may be hampering their children in learning how to coexist with others. As teachers and parents, we can help children build character and important life skills by accepting conflict ourselves as a normal part of toddlerhood, childhood and adult life.” Making Peace with Toddler Conflict.

"Mindfulness can be summed up in two words: pay attention. Once you notice what you're doing, you have the power to change it."  Michelle Burford, Journalist

We can work toward observing what is really going on, which includes noticing our own reactions. If one child takes something that another child is playing with and the second child doesn’t care, is intervention required? Perhaps not. Watch for signs that you have what Kim Payne calls “harmony addiction.” Take a deep breath and observe the situation. Give the children a moment to work things out themselves. If a child isn’t upset when another child takes their toy, does it really matter? Do you feel that the child who is taking is a bully and the child whose toy was taken is the victim?. Do you feat that your child will grow up to be mean or unable to stand up for themselves—or is there some other reason that you think what is happening is wrong? These are your expectations, and again and again as a parent, you will have the opportunity to examine these. I would invite you to take this opportunity.

Your child is trying to grab a toy from another child. They are both holding on. What should you do? Well there are at least a couple of different helpful options, depending on your child. First of all, you can redirect your child. This often works well for the younger children, especially. Or you can stay close and watch quietly. If you do, it’s good to be at the child’s eye level. You can describe what you see—“I see that you both want the ball.” Sometimes some simple coaching may be helpful—“You can say no.” Continue to watch and offer comfort until the conflict is resolved. Often this is enough. Magda Gerber, founder of RIE (Resources for Infant Edu-carers) says, “If either child’s emotions reach the boiling point and his behavior falls apart, or either child is intent on engaging in aggressively hurtful behavior like hitting or biting, you may decide to separate them.” Again this is done without judgment.

Remember that young children learn primarily through imitation and not through our verbal instructions. Our modeling appropriate behavior and accepting them for who they are will serve them best in the long run. Does this mean that we let them do whatever they want whenever they want to? No, of course not. If children are fighting or upset, they need us to step in and help We can remove a child from a situation, help them find something else to do, hold them on our laps, apologize to a child if our child takes something from them or tries to. We can let them feel whatever they are feeling, offering love and comfort, as needed, remembering that they are doing the best they can.

While we all want our children to be happy, of course, we will serve them, and the world as well, if we support them in learning to deal with conflict. For better or worse, conflict is part of the human condition. Conflict is an opportunity for growth—for all of us. True peace comes not from avoiding conflict but by meeting it with love and equanimity. Let’s give it a try!