Reflecting on “How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen” Chapter 3: Tools for Resolving Conflict
Chapter 3 of “How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen” – Tools for Resolving Conflict
So you’ve tried engaging cooperation, you’ve already empathized with their emotions, but at the end of the day they are still refusing to do that you need them to do. Now what? How can we resolve conflicts and not engage in power struggles that result in feeling like we all lost?
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The beginning of this chapter sets the stage for how consequences and punishments actually look from a child’s perspective. She includes many anecdotes from her workshop members to give real life memories that help us identify with the discussion. She then goes on to explain the pitfalls of using punishments and rewards.
Dangers of Punishments Include:
- Punishment doesn’t solve the underlying problem. If you punish a child for biting another, you never addressed why the child felt they had to bite or actually taught the child what to do instead.
- As one punishment becomes ineffective, you’ll have to come up with more severe punishments over time.
- Punishments can actually have the opposite effect we want. Instead of learning how to fix a problem or genuinely wanting to make amends, the child can go into selfish mode becoming resentful of what they have to give up.
She then goes on to ask a very important question: “How do we want our children to approach conflict?” This question really resonated with me. As a mother and a teacher, I am a role model for my child and my students in more ways that I can count. Resolving conflict is not exempt here!
She then moves forward to give us 5 tools for resolving conflict, 4 “Very Important Points”, and lots of valuable real-life stories to see the tools in action!
This is a good first step, especially when you’re just starting out working on your conflict resolution skills. Expressing your feelings helps to prevent the “don’t do…” and “stop that” commands because you’re making your statement about you and your feelings rather than about them and their actions. Not only does this get your point across without involving threats, but it also helps the child develop their empathy skills and better understand how their actions affect how others feel.
An example of saying your feelings strongly:
“Ouch! I don’t like it when my hair is pulled!” is a firm, to-the-point way to get your feelings across. Note that this doesn’t say, “Ouch! I don’t like it when YOU pull my hair.” This allows the conversation to focus on the action instead of the person. The goal isn’t to make the child feel bad or guilty, but instead to simply get them to understand how their action affected someone else.
Keep in mind, this is not a fool-proof plan. When your child is young, having fun, and/or may not fully understand cause and effect yet, you may not find this tool as effective. Also, young children are just starting to develop impulse control. So, even if you thoroughly explain that it would make you sad if they flushed your car keys down the toilet, that may not win over their impulsive need to try it and see what happens.
This step is very important in teaching a child to move forward after a conflict. Not only does this method help develop empathy for others, it also encourages your child to think creatively. Teaching a child to make amends creates a growth mindset which helps your child become a problem solver and think of themselves as someone that can do well. This could be compared to punishment which instead puts the focus on the child and their suffering because they are going to be thinking about how badly they feel.
The author then goes on to walk us through the method of teaching amends:
- First, you will want to explain the cause and effect without making it about them. For example, “It scares and hurts the doggies when their tails get pulled.”
- Next, you will give an invitation for the child to solve the problem. For example, “Let’s do something to make them feel better”
- Finally, you will give choices that help make amends when possible. Giving choices helps to show them what to do while also giving them ownership of their action. For example, “Would you like to offer them a treat or do you think they would prefer to have their bellies rubbed?”
Being consistent with explaining the effects of the child’s actions, helping them to realize they have an opportunity to make things better, and then giving them choices that encourage amends will help the child to build these good habits.
“You’re not listing and now my floor is all wet! You know you’re not allowed to spill water on the floor. I’m taking the toy away until you can listen and this bath is over!”
If you normally resort to taking something away as punishment for your child’s undesirable behavior, this tool is a great substitution!
Try this instead: “We’re going to put the bucket away for now. You like pouring water on my floor. The problem is it makes me scared that we might slip and fall. You can play with your boat or your truck, you decide.”
Offering a choice avoids the power struggle because you are logically explaining the effects of this child’s action and then giving them choice that will improve their behavior and make you happy. Neither the boat or the truck will create a flood on the floor, but they are both toys the child enjoys playing with, so he can still come away from the conversation happy!
This tool can appear at first glance to be the equivalent to punishment, but the motivations are different which is what makes this a more beneficial option. Sometimes, the other 3 tools won’t work, so then it’s time to take action. At this point, the action you’re taking is not to teach a lesson, punish, or cause discomfort, but it’s for the safety of everyone and everything around you.
Be prepared for tears because this will probably involve some crying on your child’s end. Also, be prepared with your plan of action so you can make sure you don’t end up right back in square one.
- “I’m putting the food away. I can see you’re not hungry and I don’t want the dogs eating more food.”
- “I’m putting you in the stroller so you don’t get lost in the crowd. I know you want to walk by yourself. As soon as we are in a safe spot, you can get out.”
- “I’m not allowing paint to be used today. I don’t want to end up getting mad and yelling again. We need to come up with a new plan first.”
The action you take here is going to focus on safety and protection of emotional health AND planning for the future. It’s not ambiguous, but a tangible goal… the plan, tool 5…
This is like the holy grail of conflict resolution training with your child. This is what we all strive for, what we want our children to do on their own, but we must teach and practice it with them first. Obviously, this step needs to be done with a child who can communicate. The author first used this tool with her child when he was 2.5 years old. Until this age, your best bet is to manage spaces, expectations, and redirect, redirect, redirect!
What if it doesn’t work?
Even if the first planning session doesn’t work, you have more options by going through the process again – just like a scientist! I mean, imagine where we’d be if Thomas Edison had given up after his first try at creating a light bulb! Most things don’t work perfectly the first, or even the 50th, try!
In order for this process to work, it’s important that you are both in a calm mood with zero distractions (i.e. iPad, TV, actually at the playground, etc.). Remember the goal isn’t about controlling your child, but to think of them as a member of your team that wants to help improve the situation.
Acknowledge your child’s feelings:
- You’re essentially helping to identify the problem from the child’s point of view and following the advice from Chapter 1.
- This creates a solid foundation to build on. Without it, your child won’t feel like you “get it” or that you’re on his side.
- Sometimes your child will have more to add. If this is the case, reiterate what they say back to your child so they know you truly heard them.
Describe the problem:
- Now you can state your feelings, or the feelings of others. This is your side of the story, essentially.
- Make sure to keep it short and sweet. Don’t go into too much detail. One-liners may be best here.
- Remember, the point is to make this about the actions, not the child.
Ask for ideas:
- You need paper and pencil for this! Actually seeing it on paper and going through the motions of writing it down will help to make it more real for your child and it will be a visual reminder for you both later.
- DO NOT REJECT ANY IDEAS! No matter how much you hate it, or how unrealistic it is, include it! If you reject it now, or show any visible signs that you don’t think it’s a worthy idea, your child will shut down. You could even throw in your own crazy ideas to help get things started!
- Write them all down and include pictures when possible! Stick figures are ok!
Decide which ideas you both like and cross out any that one or both do not like:
- Don’t place values on the ideas by saying things like, “Well, you obviously will never be able to fly, so that’s out!” Instead, say something like, “It would be fun to be able to fly, but I don’t think I can do that. What about [insert idea you like]?”
- If your child doesn’t like the idea, don’t badger him about it. Just cross it off!
- Keep in mind, sometimes the best ideas are the ones you didn’t come up with or the ones that seem silly.
Put the plan into action:
- Hang it up in a well seen spot, like on the fridge, and then right before you’re in that area, using that item, etc., take it down and review the plan with your child.
- Make sure you uphold your end and don’t change the plan unless safety is an issue.
- Because the child has ownership over the idea and made the decision, they usually want to follow it. However, occasionally things don’t work out. Just go back to the drawing board and start again.
“If nothing is working, you may need to reconsider your basic expectations.”
This is where you either need to manage the space or your own expectations based on the child’s age.
I had a discussion with someone recently where they didn’t want their 1.5 year old to climb on the couch… even when it wasn’t her couch and the couch-owner was okay with it. Her basic expectation that a 1.5 year old wouldn’t try climbing on furniture wasn’t an age-appropriate expectation. Once she realized that, she felt relief! She realized she didn’t have to manage this action so much and was able to reframe her mindset.
But I can’t always let them do what they want!
On the other hand, there are other times when a child really, truly can’t climb on the furniture regardless of their age. For example, in a museum. In this case, you manage the situation by either not going to the museum (not my first choice, but your sanity takes precedence here!), keeping your child in the stroller, or carrying them (such as in a Lilliebaby carrier).
Basically, don’t stress yourself out expecting your child not to do something when your child is incapable of meeting that expectation because of their age.
“Show respect for the conflict, don’t minimize the problem.”
Remember when you were pregnant and said how tired you were and then other moms said, “Just wait until the baby comes!” How did that make you feel? Unheard? Belittled? We have to be careful not to do that same thing to our kids.
You may have two kids arguing over something you feel is stupid and you just want to move on and have them stop, but it is important to them and it needs to be treated as such. Go back to the problem solving steps, acknowledge their feelings and the problem, then use the tools to move forward as necessary.
A few things to remember:
- Don’t take sides!
- Don’t solve the problem for them, that just trains them to seek you out to solve their problems for them… this will frustrate you more… trust me!
- Guide them through the process, but don’t give them the answers.
“Remove the disputed object, temporarily.”
This is not about punishment and this is only until the problem solving process is complete. When kids are arguing about an object or really want something, it’s really hard for them to think of anything else. Don’t hold the object yourself. Place it on the counter, the shelf, anywhere that is a safe spot where it is still visible to the child. Give the object back immediately once a solution is found.
“You don’t have to wait for a problem to occur in order to practice problem-solving. When possible, plan ahead!”
You know your kids. You know how they react to things. So, when going into a situation like flying, going to a restaurant, going on a play-date, etc., pre-plan!! Think about the areas your kids normally struggle with in those scenarios and go through the problem solving process beforehand. You can even role-play with them in order for them to practice, as well, for improved changes of success!
Express your feelings… Strongly!
I feel this is my main tool that I’m using at the moment. My son is only 1.5 and just recently started being able to communicate what he want in any sort of way. Unfortunately, at this age it’s more like, “OUCH! It hurts my head when my hair is pulled!” followed by a big cheeky smile and a giggle from said offender.
But it will work!
I can see that he is starting to understand though. He is being much more gentle with the dogs… at least 90% of the time! I think it’s about showing him the cause and effect model right now. Showing him that the actions he takes aren’t done in a vacuum. Instead, his actions have real consequences that affect others. Of course, that a large concept, so I don’t expect him to understand that’s what I’m doing. But, over time, he will begin to see the correlations.
Show your child how to make amends.
The other day, Boogie climbed up on the chair at the table and found his dad’s water glass. This isn’t abnormal in our house and he usually does a really good job of drinking it, so I looked away… He then poured the water all over the table, watching as it seeped through the crack in the table’s leaf to drip on the floor below.
I resisted the urge to jump up and remove him from the situation and clean it up myself.
Instead, I gave him a few minutes to watch and play in the puddle while it was safe to do so. When he was done, I acknowledged how fun that it was to play in the water and we talked about his opportunity to learn about gravity and how water can fill big spaces like the table-top and small spaces like the cracks in table. Then I reminded him that water on the floor is slippery and I don’t want any of us to get hurt, so we needed to clean it up.
Modeling cleaning up.
I took him by the hand and we walked together to get a towel. We then used his big truck to run over the towel and soak up the water. He thought it was fun, I showed how to clean his mess (one of MANY times, I’m sure!), and there was no yelling or frustration present! A real win-win!
Offer a choice.
You know that example I gave in the description of this tool? Yeah, that was from an almost daily discussion I have with my son during his nightly bathtime. I won’t say this tool doesn’t involve tears sometimes, but give it a few seconds and show how cool it is to play with the new toy. That usually does the trick for me!
Take action without insult.
Similar to the tool from Chapter 2 with the same name, I do often have to use this tool if I can’t get him distracted with a choice. The only problem is that at this age, we can’t problem solve after. I feel it’s close, but we’re not quite there yet. For now, I just empathize with his feelings and briefly explain why I’m doing what I’m doing.
The other day when we were on the MTR (public transit train), he really wanted to walk around instead of sitting. I mean, I don’t blame him. He had to sit for 45 minutes on the bus before sitting again for 40 minutes on the train. That’s a lot to expect from anyone, never mind a toddler! So, we let him move around as long as he stayed in front of us and there weren’t a lot of other people.
I was actually really impressed with his balance and he made a bunch of people smile as he went around and around the pole. But then he ran for the door. We had to bring him back and hold him while explaining how dangerous running off could be. I also empathized with him about how he wanted to be down moving around. All this time, we made sure to keep our voices calm.
I’m going to be honest here… I’m struggling lately at work. I think I’m getting overwhelmed with everything I need to pay attention to and everything I need to get done. I’m making small changes though, so I think I’m headed in the right direction!
Show how to make amends.
While I don’t feel I’ve been doing this effectively in the moment, it is something I’m trying to bring into my arsenal for dealing with inter-student problems. I feel a bit tongue-tied though and I am worried that I’m making it similar to forcing them to apologize to one another. So this is a work in progress for me.
Take action without insult.
There was a student who had my still-life objects recently and, as you can imagine, he was making the hand do some inappropriate gestures. I really wanted to scream, “What do you think you’re doing?!!!! How disrespectful! You know the rules! Why aren’t you able to follow them?!” Instead, I held it together and just said, I see you can’t work with 1the still-life objects properly right now, so I’m going to take it and put it up for now.” There was no arguing and he moved on to work on his project Small wins! I still need to add in planning ahead, but it’s hard when I have 20 other kids needing me to put out other fires.
I am trying, but I’m muddling it up. I need to remember to get the piece of paper and pencil and work WITH the students instead of just asking them for their plan. This is what I meant by trust me, you don’t want to have them getting used to asking you to solve their problems. Basically, that’s what we do in school and then I’m constantly putting out fires. It’s exhausting and doesn’t leave much time for actual helping. And most importantly, they have never learned how to solve their own problems! So, a work in progress…
While it’s a bit confusing that the tools here have the same names as the tools in Chapter 2, they really do offer a different perspective as to how the tools can be helpful in various situations. I do think one of the biggest, and yet one of the more downplayed, lessons in this chapter is to have appropriate expectations and to shift your mindset. If we go into a situation knowing what is appropriate for a child that age, as well as how to help them meet our age appropriate expectations (not just forcing obedience), then we’ll all be calmer and happier!
Have you tried any of these methods for settling conflict? How did they work for you?
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