When children become involved in a conflict with each other, their behavior can become almost vicious. Because they are immature, children may hit, bite, shove, pinch, hair pull, name call, kick, throw things, etc. All these behaviors are aggressive, and they hurt people. When such behavior occurs parents must act decisively, intervening and saying something like, "This is behavior that is not acceptable."
Because they have not been on this planet very long, children have very little experience with conflict resolution. To children each conflict is a unique experience and as a result they have difficulty generalizing. Even when confronted with the fact that such behavior is "hurting" behavior, they continue. In their mind, hitting is justified. Saying please or hitting may be the only way they know of solving the present conflict. How do we help children learn that hitting, biting, kicking, etc. are not appropriate "conflict resolution" behaviors?
We know our children will act immaturely. After all, they are children. By expecting immature behavior we are not disappointed or upset with the child when they misbehave. After all, it's what we expected. We must learn to wait patiently, rehearsing our lines, until the inevitable conflict occurs. When this happens we calmly show and explain to the child how to react and how not to react. We speak to them in a very matter of fact way, in a quiet tone of voice, saying something like: "When you do not like what another person is doing you can talk to them about it, talk to me about it, or walk away. Hitting is not a choice. Do you need my help or can you solve this problem by yourself?"
It is important to recognize what the conflict or fight is all about. If you are working with younger children you will soon discover that most conflicts are about things, rights, or territory. Rather than try to discover who is at fault, confiscate the "thing", focus on the "right", or define the "territory." Do not get caught in the trap of trying to determine who was right or who was wrong. Rather then waste time on placing the blame; help the children figure out how "solve their problem."
In a conflict a parent needs to learn to see two points of view. When you can switch from one point of view to another or see both of the views at the same time then you will be seen as a person who understands, and your child will let you guide him/her through the conflict. Define the problem for the children so they have the foundation they need to start resolving the concern. The parent may say something like this. "John, looks like you want to play with this truck. Is that right? Judy it looks like you want to play with this truck too. Is that right?
Once the problem is defined the parent is tempted to tell the children what they must do to resolve this conflict. If the parent does this the children are robbed of a chance to learn how to solve the problem themselves. The parent can best assist by helping the children discover their own solution to the problem. The parent could say something like this. "How do we figure out who gets to play with the truck since both of you want to play with it? Do you have any ideas?"
The parent gives possible solutions to the conflict only when the children can not think of any. These solutions do not need to be "good" solutions. They should be ideas that the children can expand on as they become better problem solvers. When the children think about and modify your ideas they are learning how to solve problems on their own.
When children are given the opportunity to solve their own problems, the solutions they come up with will be ones that they can live with. These solutions may be quite different than what the parent might have suggested.
If for some reason the children cannot, at the present time, resolve the conflict, or the solution they come up with is unworkable, the adult needs to let the children know that this is ok. You do not mind resolving their problem for them. This is done not in anger but in sorrow. You are sorry that they were unable to come up with a solution but that you recognize they need assistance. You recognize that your solution may be one that neither child likes but that's ok. You then assure them that you know that eventually they will be able to solve conflicts without your help.
The process of conflict resolution is time consuming, but if the parent can remain calm and help the child learns how to resolve their own conflicts it will be well worth it. By taking the time to teach children how to work things out themselves it will save the parent hours of time that they would have spent being a referee.