Teaching Conflict Resolution for Toddlers

Jan 21, 2021 9:00:00 AM / by Amber Lappin

One of the most common complaints I hear from people who work with toddlers is, “I feel like a referee! I’m breaking up squabbles all day!” It’s true—little humans with limited vocabulary, immature social skills, and underdeveloped social maturity do have a hard time coexisting with other similarly-equipped little humans.

Developmentally, toddlers are still in the middle of their ego-centric stage . . . the one in which they truly believe that all things belong to them, all people exist to serve them, and the world pretty much centers on their cute little selves. Learning how to get along with others, solve their own problems, and resolve disputes is a lifelong process (I think we all know adults who haven’t fully mastered this yet!).

So, what can we do to help broker a little more peace in the classroom so we have more time for the fun stuff—like teaching the gospel and enjoying musical worship? Here are three quick tips to help bring peaceful resolution in the classroom:


  1. Teach Strong Words: Communication is power! When we teach kids how to speak up for themselves, they become less aggressive and don’t tend to tattle as often. Pre- or non-verbal children can learn the American Sign Language (ASL) sign for words like STOP (flat left palm facing up, flat right palm facing left is brought down on the left palm at a right angle in a sharp motion).

    Teach verbal children useful phrases like “This is mine!” and “I don’t like that!” When you see a problem arise, you can encourage them to use their strong voices. “Simon—you look frustrated. Try saying to John, ‘I would like that back, please.’ Use your big voice! I’ll stand with you.”


  1. Point Out the Clues: Toddlers are notorious for not knowing how to read the room. One thing that we can do is help them be more aware of how their actions affect others. For example, “Nate—look at Kadijah’s face! She looks sad! You need to stop!” Note: play games and talk about pictures that help children better understand facial expressions and body language. As children mature in this area, they tend to get into far fewer skirmishes. It’s also important to teach children to respect verbal/nonverbal boundaries: “Evan, you need to listen to Jenny’s words. I heard (or saw) her tell you to stop touching her. You need to step back.”
  1. Solve Problems WITH Children, Not FOR Them: There are plenty of times we need to step in and solve issues for children (especially when there is danger involved!), but mostly, we can help our young ones best when we coach them through disagreements instead of just breaking up a tousle. Avoid the temptation to yell across the room or pick the children up and move them away from each other. The time we take to walk over and help our little ones resolve conflict is an investment in easier times for everyone.

Topics: Early Childhood Ministry

Amber Lappin

Written by Amber Lappin

Amber Lappin, M.Ed., is a speaker and writer with three decades of experience in early childhood development and children’s ministry. She works as a professor in the School of Education & Teacher Prep at Riverside City College. Amber enjoys her small farm in Southern California with her husband of 30 years, Jason. They have three adult children and an ever-growing assortment of weirdo animals.


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