Making Peace with Toddler Conflict
Sunday, September 16, 2012
As promised, we will be discussing the article, “Making Peace with Toddler Conflict” by Trice Atchison from Spring/Summer 2009 Gateways (the journal of the Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America). She writes this article to help us meet conflict with “understanding and finesse.” Sounds good, yes? She begins by talking about how utopia is not ideal; we do not serve our children by surrounding them with perfect harmony (as if we could). The place to start in dealing with conflicts between our child and another is by examining our own reactions to conflict—what are our feelings and preconceptions? Can we step back from those feelings and see what is really happening? I remember when Rachel, my older daughter was almost two. We had a neighborhood playgroup we went to. It would be upsetting for me when some other child took away a toy that Rachel was playing with. After all, she had it first! (well, maybe—first is a rather relative term.) Anyhow, it took me a while to figure out that it wasn’t really important whether she had that thing or not, what was really going on was that she and the other children were learning how to interact. Kim Payne talks about “harmony addiction.” Many of us adults have it, but conflict is a real part of human life, and it is healthier for our children, and us, to learn to deal with it in healthy ways and to accept the whole range of emotions that we experience as human beings. Kim encourages us to see conflict as an opportunity, and I do, too. Rather than suppressing anger and sadness, can we allow them to be and help our children find ways to work with them?
If we can get to that point, then what is an appropriate way to address conflict among very young children? If they are young enough, we can redirect them to some other toy or activity. Simple things like providing a healthy rhythm, eating healthy food and getting enough sleep can minimize conflict, as well. We can give children a chance to work through conflict by themselves, while staying close and watching, and being prepared to step if a child’s safety is at risk or if a child is getting overwhelmed. It is also helpful sometimes to describe, in the simplest of terms, what the adult is observing.
The author of this article quotes Sharifa Oppenheimer, whose book we will be reading together:
“It will require us to take our own emotions in hand and work with ourselves, not only to model justice, but also to shed light on human dynamics and creative problem solving at an early age…[When guiding children,] there are three essential elements to remember. 1) Use the same tone of voice you use for ‘here’s the towel.’ Simple, informative, clear. 2) Rarely is there a situation in which there is a true ‘victim’ and ‘aggressor’. There are two sides to every child’s disagreement and you need to know both. 3) Keep it simple. A few words used skillfully are far more effective than the best lecture on justice and equality.”