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Coaching Kids to Overcome Playground Conflict

If your child is getting a hard time in the school or preschool playground, don’t despair. Here are some ways to help conquer the conflict and build their self-esteem at the same time.

While we know that playgrounds can be tough places (we’ve all been there, after all), there’s something that strikes at your heart when it’s your child who’s been involved in any schoolyard conflict.

Some parents try stepping in to help diffuse the situation: surely two rational adults can help their kids work it out, right?

Wrong. Experts say this often blows up in your face, which is why schools around Australia really discourage parents from confronting other parents.

Lessons for Life

“Conflicts occur every day and can be a source of frustration for children and adults alike,” says John Cooper, senior clinical psychologist and author of Getting On With Others.

“Children who can stay calm, think of different solutions and think ahead are likely to get on better with other children and adults.”

Counselling psychologist Evelyn Field, who has written Bullybusting and the more recent Bully Blocking says that teaching a child to develop social and emotional resilience will help him- or herself “deal with difficult, stressful encounters: managing pushy friends, aggressive bosses, controlling partners and others.”

Where to Start

John Cooper suggests you start coaching your children in problem-solving skills from the age of four, and then right through to their teen years. He says it’s important not to jump in when our kids are having a problem (unless of course the playground conflict puts them in danger, which is when you need to work with the school to get it sorted out). Instead, help them solve the dilemma by following these five steps:

Step 1: What is the problem?
Ask your child to describe the problem. “Listen carefully, then summarise the main points,” suggests John.

Step 2: How do you feel?
Get the child to “recognise their own feelings”. Then ask them to think how the other child involved in the conflict is feeling.
“Doing this helps them learn that it is not just them who feel(s) aggrieved,” adds John.

Step 3: Calming down
“When we get angry, instead of looking for solutions, we often spend our time going over and over why we are right and the other person is wrong,” writes John Cooper.
Instead, encourage your child to “take three deep breaths and calm down” and count to three.

Step 4: Alternative solutions
“Children are more likely to accept a solution if they – not you – suggested it,” says John.
“Stay quiet for a while and see what they come up with. Then you can make suggestions.”

Step 5: The best solution
Don’t pass judgement, adds John, but try to get your child to “think ahead … and judge which solution will bring about the best results for everybody.”

Other ways to help

Evelyn Field suggests:

• Switching off your own feelings so that you can empower your child.

• Allowing your child to challenge you sometimes (this will get them used to communicating and experiencing empowerment).

• In any talk about a playground conflict, beware if a child says, ‘I don’t care’. “She does, otherwise she wouldn’t say it.”

• Help your child work out the difference between friendly fools or deliberately mean kids

Coach your child on how to look assertive – “with a neutral, blank face, looking them in the eye and standing up straight and still."

• Help them work out clever ways to respond rather than retaliate in playground disagreements with short, maybe even humorous one-liners. This can diffuse conflict.