The top ways to address conflict in general are to:
1. Attend to your child’s emotional needs: safety, connection/attention, autonomy… The more we meet the natural needs of a child, the less they will have to protest via their behavior.
2. Model cooperative and problem solving behavior as the parent…The more we set the tone and model the right behaviors as parents, the more we will create the culture and skills we want to see.
But what about in the moment?
A conflict between siblings is a teachable moment. Many parents feel the need to jump in and broker a solution. Your well meaning impulse may not allow your children to be learning as much as they could from the situation. In parenting, sometimes less is more. It’s hard, but yes, less of you, your advice, your solutions might be better. Both the aggressor and “victim” need help. They need skills to help resolve the conflict. As a parent this is what I want, my kids resolving their own issues as much as possible. It will serve me, so I don’t have to hear about every single little conflict, and it will serve them well into their adult life.
The “victim” needs support in asserting himself. If a parent is constantly stepping in and doing the work for the “victim”, he learns nothing for himself. We don’t want this as parents. We want confident and empowered children. We can coach the victim to be assertive, to express his feelings and to also set boundaries and give direction to the other party.
An aggressor needs help with empathy and with getting what he wants in prosocial way. These things can and should be taught. This can be done by reflecting on behavior, reflecting on impact, imagining new ways of behaving and practicing new ways of behaving (and communicating). When there is no clear aggressor/victim, similar strategies still apply. In both situations the ideas is to not make yourself the center of the conflict (unless it’s a safety issue), but to be a guide to empower your children to learn how to do conflict well. Here are some small scripts you can follow:
For the Victim: Teach instead of fix
Ask the child: Did you like that? (no?)
“Tell X that you didn’t like it. Say I didn’t like it when you ______”
“What would you like him to do next time”
“Tell him, next time _______”
For the Aggressor: Teach instead of Blame
Counterintuitive but…empathizing with the aggressor allows you to connect so that you can TEACH after. For example: “You wanted the ball,” “You didn’t know what to do so you grabbed it” “Next time say, “My turn please” “Try it now, say My turn please”