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How can I help my toddler navigate and solve conflicts with their friends?

two toddlers fighting over a beach ball

Key Points:

  1. Occasional conflicts between toddlers are normal and vital for socio-emotional development.
  2. Tips for conflict management include positive role modeling, encouraging cooperation, proposing sharing, reformulating problems, suggesting alternative solutions, fostering empathy, and praising positive behavior.

It’s completely normal for toddlers to sometimes get overwhelmed, and as a parent you’ve surely witnessed how interacting with playmates or making new friends can, at times, seem as an unsurmountable challenge. Don’t worry, occasional conflict between young kids is normal, and a necessary component for your kid’s socio-emotional development. When this happens, you have the opportunity to teach your kid about conflict-solving.

Following the work of psychologist Kelly Tu from the Department of Human Development and Family Studies of Auburn University, here are some tips on how to help your young child manage conflict with their peers:

  • Be a positive role model of conflict-solving.
  • Encourage cooperation. Suggest using words instead of aggression to deal with a conflict.
  • Propose sharing. If the popularity of a single toy among playmates is proving problematic, remind your child that when two kids share a toy, they each get an equal turn playing with it. You can also be in charge on timing the turns if you see the need for it.
  • Reformulate. If your child is crying or is overwhelmed with an emotion, ask them to restate the problem in a way that opens up possible solutions. Ex. “They won’t give me the purple crayon” can be reformulated by you as “So we have two artists, but only one purple crayon”.
  • Teach alternative solutions. If sharing is too challenging for your child’s developmental stage right now, suggest finding another activity or toy to play with instead. Acknowledging the situation and then proposing an alternative is very useful to manage toddler-conflict.
  • Help them see the situation from the other person’s point of view. This strategy can be very useful for discouraging aggressive behavior, because you foster empathy.
  • Give praise. Supporting and encouraging positive solutions will reinforce this behavior. Let your child know that solving conflict is valuable to you, that it feels good, and that you recognize their efforts.
  • Practice makes perfect. Make sure you give your child plenty of opportunities to spend time with other kids and playmates.

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