If you have ever met a toddler, you have probably either witnessed a tantrum or been on the receiving end of a disagreement. Toddlers are known for testing limits, seeking out reactions, and being self focused. So how do we, as caregivers, help them to navigate the complicated world of toddler conflict resolution?  

Be A Role Model

Toddlers are still at that precious age where they look up to adults and want to be like them. Caregivers have the opportunity to role model the behavior that they hope the children will grow into. Showing children that you are willing to take turns, share, and be kind to others will set a great example for toddlers when you then ask them to do the same.  

Label Their Emotions

Toddlers have a sea of emotions and don’t yet understand what it is that they are feeling most of the time. By putting a name to each emotion, we help children to recognize their feelings and to better understand how to regulate them. Try phrases such as, “I see that you are angry. It’s hard to share our toys sometimes.” This not only helps the child to understand what they are feeling, but also validates the reason for the emotion. Letting children know that their emotions are not wrong is very important in developing a sense of  self.  How to manage the emotion, not change it, is the real goal. By pointing out the emotions of others, we help toddlers to see that they are not the only person in the situation. It might not even occur to a toddler that someone else has feelings! Helping toddlers understand what they are feeling can avoid conflicts and aid toddler conflict resolution so they can empathize with a peer who says they feel mad or sad.

Praise Them

Often we don’t speak up until there is a conflict that needs an adult’s intervention. Don’t miss out on those wonderful opportunities to reinforce positive behavior rather than just waiting to provide negative feedback. When you see a child share, show empathy, or be kind, make a point of being enthusiastic in your response. “I see that you shared your toy! It is so nice to share with your friends! You made Katie so happy! Good job!”  Simple recognition does wonders for the child’s self esteem and will encourage them to have future positive interactions in hopes of a similar response. A child that only receives adult intervention during a negative experience may begin to feel like they are unable to interact correctly with others.  

Be Consistent With Toddler Conflict Resolution

If there is one thing we know about toddlers, it’s that repetition is key! Be consistent in your messages to them so that they understand the expectations. It can be hard enough to navigate the world without a constant change in what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. Remembering the importance of setting realistic expectations is incredibly important. Toddlers are small and their brains are not yet fully developed. They will benefit most from patience, kindness, and as much understanding as possible. Recognize that they are not always capable of what we would like them to be, and that we need to provide support and guidance as they work through their emotions, conflicts and triumphs. When a conflict arrises, approach the toddler conflict resolution with consistent phrases such as stating their feelings first and then working it out together. For example, “I see you are upset that Allison knocked down your tower. Let’s use our words with our friends. What can we say to Allison?”  

Forgive Yourself

Lastly, recognize that toddler behavior can be exhausting. It can be easy as a caregiver to get frustrated and forget the limitations of your child. Take those moments of frustration and use them as a learning experience for you and your child. Use the opportunity to role model an apology and label your own emotions. This will help the child feel understood and related to in the long run. Letting a toddler know that sometimes even grown ups lose their cool is okay! Be kind to yourself just as you would to your toddler. Caring for young children is hard and you are doing a great job!  

Toddler conflict resolution will get easier as you, the caregiver, keep practicing these actions and as the child develops socially and emotionally. Come back next week as we discuss teaching preschoolers conflict resolution. In the meantime, learn 5 ways to teach a child mindfulness to help build their self-awareness and social/emotional development.

About The Author

Sarah PSarah Proctor has worked with young children for over 25 years as a teacher, childcare director, nanny, and mom of two girls. She has her Bachelors Degree in Early Childhood Education and Administration from UMass Amherst. In addition, Sarah has her Director 2 certification from the Department of Early Education and Care.