Compassion and empathy are ways of expressing love. They’re also very important social-emotional skills that help children communicate, relate to other people, and solve conflicts effectively.
Cheri J. Meiners’ series of social emotional development stories is a great place to start teaching conflict resolution. Her books Talk and Work it Out and Cool Down and Work Through Anger both demonstrate how children can empathize with others during arguments and settle their differences peacefully.
Help your children learn to resolve conflicts without aggression:
- Identifying Feelings. When a conflict first arises, children may not be able to put names to their feelings. They only know that they feel bad, and so they try to stop the feeling by lashing out or retaliating. Before anything else, children must learn how to identify their negative emotions so that they can then apply the proper strategy to calm down. To identify anger, children can see if they have a hot face, tense muscles, or heavy breathing. To identify sadness, children may notice a “lump in the throat” feeling or teary eyes.
- Employ a Cool Down Strategy. Cool down strategies can differ from child to child, but everyone should have a simple way to calm down quickly. One child may find that counting to ten lets him get ahold of his emotions while another may need to squeeze a fidget toy before she feels calm again. However, once these strategies are an option, children can apply them during arguments and calm down quickly enough to think through their actions.
- Talk it Out. Depending on the problem at hand, this could start with a child saying “Why did you do that?” “That hurt my feelings,” or “I want…” This opens up a dialogue with the other child and allows both children to share their side of the issue. Talking it out also encourages children to see the other person’s perspective while having theirs be heard and validated.
- If Necessary, Walk Away. Walking away could mean multiple things: it might involve one child finding a quiet place to calm down; it might mean going and finding an adult to mediate; or it might mean letting go of the conflict and choosing to do something else. It’s important for children to know that leaving a conflict is an option if talking is getting them nowhere. Walking away peacefully is better than getting into a fight.