How to Resolve Peer Conflict

Apr 12, 2022

As parents, we all have a goal for our children to be included and have friends. Early on we are working on trying to help our children develop skills such as how to play together or share toys. Playdates are filled with sweet moments interspersed with grabbing toys from each other and yelling “mine!” These squabbles are often loud, but fortunately we can be thankful for short attention spans and how quickly we can distract them!

As both of my children have grown, it has been interesting to see how they manage conflict. There is definitely a split between my one child who is more “go with the flow” and the other who takes things very personally. Oh, the drama that has already started in 4th grade!

It can be helpful to remind ourselves that these little moments are opportunities (yes, truly) for our children to learn great skills on conflict resolution and forgiveness so that moving forward their relationships can be happier and healthier (Can I go back and tell my middle school self some tips?!?).

While we think about our kids learning academically, they are also undergoing some MAJOR psychosocial development at the same time (if you want to “nerd out,” check out Erickson’s psychosocial stages of development). This is why I strongly feel school is an important place for social-emotional development, and lunch and recess are crucial, but let me stay on topic…

Since conflict is a normal part of life, we need skills to handle it! Your child needs your help in understanding the following concepts:

               -both perspectives (How is the other person probably feeling?)

               - their own role (How did they potentially contribute to the situation?)

               -options for solutions (What can we do to fix it?)

               -how to restore the relationship (We can still be friends!)

We all need to remember – it takes two to tango. We all bring something to the table during interactions, so increased awareness of our own behavior is helpful! In having conversations with our kids, this is certainly a topic where kids need to be heard, which means we have to be better listeners than givers of advice (Yes, I often have to remind myself of this).

A few times my daughter has come home very upset describing in great detail how no one asked her to play at recess. While my inner mama bear wanted to protect my child, I was fortunate to catch myself and ask my daughter, “Hmm.. did you happen to ask anyone to play?” Nope. She sure hadn’t. This provided a great opportunity to talk about how other girls could be having the exact same conversation at home with their parents because no one asked them to play! We then role played what she could do the next time she was at recess. This can seem silly, but I promise it makes your kid feel SO much more confident when they then go up to someone and ask them to play.

At times, your child may need guidance away from a child that persistently causes difficulties. It is okay to learn boundaries at an early age! But most often we will likely be teaching our children that just like they make mistakes and want to be forgiven, we similarly need to forgive our friends when they make mistakes and hurt our feelings.

Let’s form an alliance where kids are allowed to make mistakes, we give and accept apologies, and we can continue to be friends.   

-Dr. Jordana Mortimer

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