The ABC’s of Helping Children with Social Conflicts by Ann Rasmussen, PsyD

Each social conflict a child brings home offers an opportunity for you to serve as a child’s own loving guide, wisely listening, reflecting, and questioning. We hold up a mirror to reveal features that children can’t see within themselves which obstruct their own path, converting adversity into a deepening opportunity, and coaxing the best out of who the children can be. If parents and childcare providers don’t do that, who on earth will?

Here are my alphabetical list of ideas to help us help the children for whom we provide care.

A — Actively Listen.
B — Beware of Adult Urges to Prematurely Rescue or Solve a Child’s Problem.
C — Convey Your Complete Empathy.
D — Develop Naivete.
E — Examine the Child’s Contribution to the Conflict.
F — Foster the Development of Own Problem Solving,
G — Generate the Final Plan of Action.
H — Hugs and Humor.
I — Inventory Your Own Intervention Options.

A — Actively Listen.
Actively listen uninterrupted, with open-ended questions, without editorializing, by not judging, and only reflecting back statements to clarify and convey your understanding.

B — Beware of Adult Urges to Prematurely Rescue or Solve a Child’s Problem.
While helping to solve the child’s problem might relieve your tension, it may rob the child of the learning potential embedded in the conflict.

C — Convey Your Complete Empathy.
Convey empathy for their distress in a forthright manner before doing anything about the problem. Even if the situation sounds petty to you as an adult, the landscape of catastrophes looms much larger from their elementary school perspective. For example, “So you felt really hurt when Johnny shared his chocolate marshmallows with Freddie but not with you.” Refrain from sneaking in corrections on how they should have viewed the situation, as that only detracts from the empathy you offer. For example, it wouldn’t be wise to say, “why would you want to eat such sickening junk food anyway?”

D — Develop Naivete.
Develop a naivete about the child’s feelings to maximize their expression of their feelings. The more they articulate their feelings and interactions, the more astute social observers and responders they become. If verbalizing their troubles is difficult, suggest looking at a book about feelings. In your day-to-day life at home, develop a language for feelings by labeling them as they come up, as they’re observed in books, on television,
and between siblings. This can help children become more fluent in the language of feelings for the times when they are in the throes of strong feelings.

E — Examine the Child’s Contribution to the Conflict.
Step out of the biased and devoted, “my charge is never in the wrong,” nanny perspective and adopt a detached, (still loving), observer role to ask some tough questions. Does the child keep initiating contact with a peer whom she should know by now is really better to be avoided? Is the child developing a persona as the consummate victim? Is the child exhibiting a pattern of not sharing with other people? Or not tolerating losing? Or not standing up for himself? Is the child acting something out on the playground that reflects some trouble she feels at home, with siblings, or with parents? Tuck it away, look for a pattern, and think about how to address the child’s contribution to his own social conflicts later on, striking, “when the iron is cold.” Look for books with characters who struggle with the same difficulty. For example, read Bargain for Francis by Russel Hoban to a child who lends herself out to be exploited or bullied. See more children’s book suggestions from last Saturday.

F — Foster the Development of Own Problem Solving.
Foster the development of the child’s own problem solving capacities by coaxing them to generate viable approaches to the problem, rather than supplying the solutions for them. When you withhold good ideas and urge them to exercise their resources in each new interpersonal challenge, you expand their skills, you enhance their self reliance, and you bolster their sense of competence. Talk to children about your own tricky situations and
brainstorm about what to do. You may be impressed with their thoughtful solutions.

G — Generate the Final Plan of Action.
Include the child’s strategies in a problematic situation, and your own interventions on the child’s behalf. Should the situation be resolved nicely, you then have the opportunity to explicitly support the child for struggling through and mastering a tough dilemma.

H— Hugs and Humor.
Hugs and humor are always important and especially when the tough times roll.

I — Inventory Your Own Intervention Options.
You can be included in a meeting with a team of concerned adults to address your concerns about a child’s hardships. The parents, (not you), draw up a plan of action with concrete goals, getting referrals for a child therapist, obtaining an evaluation of any facet of neurological, psychological, or educational functioning that may be impinging on their child’s maturation. You may introduce new positive contexts such as volunteer activities, YMCA classes, sports, art classes, music lessons, yoga, religious youth programs, and so on. Your devoted one on one time with children helps replenish and sustain them through the turmoil.

What social conflicts do the children you care for experience?


  1. Social conflicts for children are a huge problem for kids. Issues that may seem trivial to us are a big deal to kids. So, listening and responding with empathy, tact and kindness is crucial. I think it is best for nanny and parent to be on the same page. Generate the plan of action with the parents because you need to follow their wishes.Annie, Lincoln Nebraska

  2. Good advice as always! Thanks, Shelly Norton KS

  3. I agree that it is too easy to dismiss social conflicts between children. Their peers are their lives. A few years ago a theory became popular by a grandmother. Influence of peers on children is great than the influence of the parents! So when they are arguing with their peers it can be devastating for the child.Stefany, Colorado

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