Self-regulation skills, such as controlling one’s emotion and exerting self-control, affect children both academically and socially. When children display strong self-regulation skills they get along better with others and are more adept at resolving conflicts with peers. They are less likely to be impulsive and aggressive and more likely to recognize and manage their emotions, resist impulses, and understand the perspective of others.
Below are a few parent-friendly tips to help your child learn important steps towards solving conflicts, including calming down, identifying the problem, and thinking of multiple solutions to a conflict.
Teach them to calm down: When children are able to calm down and focus they are better able to label and manage their strong feelings (i.e. angry, disappointed, and frustrated) and respond to a situation in a responsible and appropriate way. It is important that children calm down first so that they are better able to describe the problem. Once children are calm, they can think about a situation and come up with different ideas for solving a problem, rather than acting on their first impulse.
Model calming down for your child. Explain that taking belly breaths (deep, slow breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth) can make strong emotions feel less strong. Using two small stuffed animals say, “Let’s play ‘Belly Breathing’ with these animals. We will lie down on our backs, with an animal on our bellies. We will try to breathe into our bellies and make the animals move up slowly when we breathe in and move down slowly when we breathe out.” Lie down on the floor and practice this belly breathing exercise with your child.
Get them to say the problem out loud: Knowing how to use words to describe a problem instead of hitting or grabbing is an important skill that will help your child learn to resolve conflicts in a thoughtful way.
The next time a conflict arises at home, encourage your little one to use expressions to label how she is feeling, such as, “That made me feel..” or “That made me sad because…” By practicing this skill at home, your child becomes better at describing problems when she is in social situations with peers. It is also important to help your child develop empathy and notice how others may be feeling during a conflict. Encourage your child to ask questions such as, “Are you okay?” or “How are you feeling?” to help her understand the perspective of others, which is an important self-regulation skill.
Encourage them to think of solutions: Children who are able to generate lots of safe and respectful ideas about how to handle conflicts and solve problems are typically more successful academically and socially than those children who come up with fewer, more aggressive ideas.
Model thinking of multiple solutions to a problem with your child. For example, your child is arguing over a toy with a friend. Say, “You both seem very upset. First, calm down, and then we can solve the problem together.” With both children, practice taking deep belly breaths. Then ask, “What is the problem?” Help the children describe the problem then repeat it. “You both want to play with one toy at the same time. Now let’s think of some solutions.” Help the children think of solutions, such as playing together with the toy or taking turns and playing with another equally appealing toy. Say, “Which solution do you want to try?” Have the children pick a solution then try it.
Play a game with your child to practice thinking of solutions. Use an old tissue box as an “idea box.” Use small pieces of paper to represent the ideas. Say, “We’re going to play the Think game. I’ll say a problem. You think of lots of safe ideas to solve the problem. For each of your ideas, I will put a piece of paper in the ‘idea box.’” Play the game throughout the week. At the end of the week, count how many ideas your child thought of. Use real problems or make up your own.
Children need the support of an adult as they learn these skills; however, practicing and modeling how to calm down, say the problem, and think of solutions can help your child develop the necessary skills for social-emotional competence. It is these valuable self-regulation skills which build self-confidence and are necessary for navigating friendships and resolving conflicts with friends and peers.