Have you ever had your toddler or preschooler say to you, “I don’t want to go to school, no one wants to play with me, or “X hit me, X is being mean to me.’
As parents, this can be quite a common occurrence, and whilst our natural instinct is to want to protect our children, there are ways to navigate these scenarios with your child and equip them with techniques to handle friendship troubles, unfavourable situations and teach kids to manage conflict.
Role-play different social scenarios with your child
Role playing allows children to better understand situations to help with their interactions and to teach kids to manage conflict. Coming up with various scenarios that children might face or have faced in social situations helps them to practice appropriate interactions. You could do this with props like cuddly toys or puppets or just do it amongst yourselves or with siblings.
An example of an interaction that you could play out for your child at school/playground is:
X: “Hi can I play with you?
At this point your child’s reaction will be likely one of feeling unhappy or deflated or accepting the ‘no’ as the norm.
In this instance it is important to build your child’s confidence and explain that this is okay, and how to be persistent in the face of rejection.
Therefore, role-play this with your child:
X: “Hi. Can I play with you?”
X: “Well, I’m just going to sit next to you and build a house with blocks.”
After a few minutes of playing side by side:
X: “What are you building?”
Y: “I am building a house.”
X: “Oh wow. How many rooms does the house have?”
And there you go, you’ve now created room for conversation which is the start to building any kind of friendship/relationship with another chid.
Equip your child with confidence to resolve an unfavourable interaction
Another example of an unfavourable interaction that could occur is X (your child) is using an equipment or toy that Y wants to use and just goes ahead and takes it. X will either get annoyed or angry that this has occurred, or X will not say anything for fear that Y might get rough.
In this instance, it is important that you equip your kids with the ability to share their feelings in a respectful way to manage conflict and resolve the situation. Here is one way that you can model this:
X: “I didn’t like that you took my toy. Please give it back to me.”
Y: “I don’t want to give it back to you, it’s mine now.”
X: “Well I was playing with it first, and I only need it for another few minutes and then you can have it. Let’s take turns with it.”
Y: “Okay, here you go.”
X and Y play with toy together. They have learned how to resolve conflict together, thereby strengthening their friendship.
Another example of an unfavourable situation is if X (your child) gets hit by Y. What does X do now?
In situations where X gets hurt physically, it’s important to teach your child the words that they can use, and also tell them what do explicitly.
X gets pushed by Y.
X: “Please stop pushing me. I don’t like it.”
Y continues to push.
Teach X to walk away and tell them to immediately seek help from an adult around them (a teacher or you the parent) by telling the adult what has occurred so that the adult can help to resolve the situation.
Sometimes when teaching kids to manage conflict, situations get resolved and sometimes they don’t. When it doesn’t get resolved, it is important to reiterate that it’s perfectly fine for them to feel the way they do, and that if they are still uncomfortable with Child Y’s behaviour, they should express it to all adults and maintain a distance from Child Y.
Expose your children to books that display friendship and resolving conflict in different ways
Have books at home where characters face and navigate various social interactions. Whilst reading, you could pause and discuss the particular behaviour that a child is displaying, how the characters are handling themselves and what your child would do in the same situation.
Some recommendations of books are George and Martha: The complete stories of two best friends and How do dinosaurs play with friends.
Model friendly behaviour for your children
Children are observant, so showing appropriate interactions like being kind and caring towards your friends and relatives will encourage them to repeat similar behaviours in social situations.
An example of this: if a friend of yours is sick, and you’ve brought them a care package, share this with your child and express that you are being friendly and caring.
Our relationships are rarely conflict-free – whether at work, with friends, family members, significant others, even strangers. When it comes to our little ones, it is possible to teach kids to manage conflict to build better friendships when faced with scenarios that might be tough for them.