How do you handle playground conflicts?

Playground disputes can upset both kids and their parents. An expert has tips on how to handle such clashes…

It’s a common but much-dreaded scenario ― a child wants to play with a certain toy or piece of equipment at a playground, but another is still enjoying himself on it.

The first child thinks, “I want it!” and makes a grab for it, which causes the other child to lose his grip. Both then try snatching it from each other. Sooner or later, one starts screaming, the other is in tears, which sees the parents come running over.

Disputes between young children are bound to happen, whether you are at the playground, on a playdate, or even just while waiting at the doctor. 

But how do you react? Do you wade in immediately, or do you sit back and see how the tots figure things out for themselves? Also, how do you teach junior to respond when such a conflict occurs?

Says Jeanie Chu, a clinical psychologist at The Resilienz Clinic, “Learning to handle conflicts in an appropriate and productive manner can help to enhance social skills and prepare children to handle interpersonal issues later in life.”

It enhances their sense of empathy, as well as develops decision-making skills, since it requires good communication, listening and problem-solving skills. She adds, “It also develops their self-confidence in the process of solving interpersonal problems in a positive and assertive manner.”

Expressing how they feel can help foster understanding of their own, and the other party’s emotions.

One thing parents can do is to guide kids through sticky situations at the playground. Here are some steps you can follow

* Cool off and calm down
Kids, especially, the younger ones, tend to react before they think, Chu notes. Parents can teach them to break away from the conflict when it gets heated by suggesting cooling-off methods. She points out, “These include walking away, counting to 10 or more, and teaching relaxation techniques such as deep breathing to calm down.”

* Make sense
Parents may need to spell out specifically what the problem is, especially if the children are younger. Talk to each child, either together or separately, then help them to state the problem. Chu explains, “It’s important to emphasise honesty and encourage acknowledgement on their part. Highlight that it takes two hands to clap in a conflict.” She advises parents get their children to use “I” statements during the process of stating the problem, to encourage them to take responsibility for the contribution to the conflict. Expressing how they feel can help them better understand what they did, as well as the other party’s emotions.

* Apologise
Regardless of whether they started the dispute or not, it’s a good idea to teach your child what an apology is, and how to apologise. “A good apology entails remorse, responsibility, remedy and reconciliation,” says Chu. You can guide a younger child to come up with astatement of apology.

* Find a solution
Chu suggests encouraging children to brainstorm solutions to the conflict. “Ideally, this should be done together with both parties in the conflict, to reach a compromise.” If this can’t be done, parents can guide the children in a self-reflection process. She adds, “Think about what went wrong and how situations like this can be avoided in the future.”

How do you respond when another child hurts yours on purpose? One mum shares her experience… next!