Managing Conflicts Between Kids

Managing Conflict Between Kids

Managing conflicts is part of being around kids. Whether you are dealing with kids on the playground, a play date, sibling interactions, or some other convergence of small bodies, conflicts and squabbles are sure to arise.

Planning Ahead

It is a great idea to plan for conflicts before they occur. The best discipline comes in the form of consistent, logical consequences— but these can be extremely difficult to come up with on the fly. Thinking ahead to the types of situations that are likely to arise (teasing, name calling, etc) will enable you to plan good consequences ahead of time.

Your Role

When kids are in conflict, you have several roles, and you must address them separately:

  • stopping harmful behavior
  • calming kids down
  • determining what happened
  • administering consequences, if appropriate
  • helping kids mend their relationship

There is huge value in managing conflicts thoroughly and consistently—not the least of which is that kids will learn healthy conflict management skills and begin to use them on their own.

5 Steps to Managing Conflicts With Kids

Let's say a group of kids comes to you with a story of something that happened on the playground. One is crying. One is angry. One seems scared. All are looking to you to fix it.

  1. Give everyone a chance to calm down. If kids are very angry or upset, they will not be able to talk about what happened. Sit them down for a few minutes with a bit of play dough, or paper and crayons. Ask them to mold or draw what happened, or to show how they are feeling. Having a task will help them calm down.
  2. Listen to everyone involved. Briefly state the rule: while someone is talking, none of the others can interrupt. Each child tells their side of the story, from beginning to end. You can ask questions to make sure you understand, but other children may not speak.
  3. Sum up what you heard. When each person has had a chance to speak, you will have a general idea of what happened. Sum these up by telling the group, I am hearing that there was a disagreement, Jim called Sophie names, and Sophie pushed Jim. Does that sound right? Focus on the bits that are most important; these are the parts of the story that kids will usually agree on.
  4. Give consequences for unacceptable behaviors. Consequences should be fair and consistent. If you decide on a consequence for name calling, try to use that same consequence the next time someone calls another child names. (Tip: this is much easier if you write them down, and even better if you can plan them ahead of time.)
  5. Help kids mend the relationship. More often than not, a sincere apology is all that is needed. But sincere is often lacking when we tell a kid to say sorry. Instead, have young children or nonreaders draw a picture to show they are sorry. You can also teach kids how to say a real apology:
A Real Apology

I'm sorry I —————.

How did that make you feel?

What can I do to make it better?

Will you forgive me?>

Managing conflict between kids doesn't have to be so stressful. A predictable and helpful plan gives you confidence, sets kids at ease, and resolves differences with a minimum of heartache. Oh, and the best part? You are teaching your kids some great conflict management skills!

Related article: Mean Kids


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“Education is not preparation for life. Education is life itself. ”
~John Dewey