A Three Step Approach to Help Children Navigate Conflict
by KYLA MCROY, HOPE K. GERDE, LAURIE LINSCOTT
The Three-Step Approach to Addressing Conflict
A child’s self-regulation is influenced by developmental processes that occur emotionally, cognitively, and linguistically. Because these skills develop throughout childhood, preschoolers (and even older children) may find it difficult to manage their behaviors and use appropriate strategies to effectively communicate during conflict.
Early childhood educators play an essential role in the development of these skills. When teachers target self-regulation and language during classroom interactions and conflicts, children become more capable of using strategies to interact with peers and solve problems appropriately. By following the steps below, teachers can effectively support children’s self-regulation and language development while addressing unsafe, destructive, or conflict-related behaviors in the classroom.
Step One: State the Behavior and Help Identify Emotions
Just as teachers can acknowledge children’s positive behaviors in the classroom, they can also describe behavior that is not appropriate. Clearly and briefly describing children’s behavior draws their attention to their actions and gives them the language they need for future interactions. For example, if a child is shoveling sand onto the floor at the sensory area, a teacher might say, “Micah, you are pouring sand out of the sensory table onto the floor.” This makes the child aware of their behavior and sets the stage for the teacher to explain and address it (steps two and three).
This first step is also an excellent opportunity for teachers to use emotion vocabulary to help children understand and label feelings that might be related to their behavior. When teachers acknowledge children’s feelings, they help children feel heard. They also set the stage for a compassionate discussion rather than a power struggle.
For example, a 3-year-old struggling to balance blocks on his tower might yell, causing a teacher to kneel beside him and say, “You are yelling. It sounds like you are angry.” Or a child might appear upset about accidentally ripping their easel paper while painting, to which the teacher can respond, “You are kicking the easel. I wonder if you are frustrated?”
A feelings chart is a valuable resource that can help children label and discuss emotions.
Step Two: Explain the Behavior and Its Implications
After teachers have drawn a child’s attention to their behavior and helped them identify their emotions, they can explain why the behavior may be inappropriate. This helps the child begin to recognize cause and effect, which supports their future ability to use reasoning to regulate their behavior without teacher support.
Step two is a great opportunity for teachers to refer back to the behavioral expectations they’ve already established with children. Providing children with a reason that reflects classroom rules and/or speaks to children’s personal interests can help motivate them to adjust their behavior.
For example, if a child is dumping toy cars on the floor, the teacher could say, “You are dumping the cars all over the floor. Children may step on the cars and fall and hurt themselves, or their feet might break the cars, so we can’t use them anymore.” If a child tears a book, the teacher could say, “You tore this book. We won’t be able to read it. Remember that one of our classroom rules is to be gentle with our books.”
Teachers can also take this opportunity to support children’s language development by using rich vocabulary. For example, if a child is working on their picture as the class starts to transition, the teacher can say, “You are still illustrating the story you wrote. If you keep working on your illustration right now, you will miss free play time.”
Step Three: Address the Behavior
Now that children are aware of their actions and the related implications, teachers can guide them by providing an alternative, appropriate behavior.
*Excerpts taken from “A Three Step Approach to Help Children Navigate Conflict”
by KYLA MCROY, HOPE K. GERDE, LAURIE LINSCOTT www.naeyc.org – National Association for the Education of Young Children.