Lesson 4


Conflict Management and Problem Solving

Helping your Children Manage Conflict In Lesson 4, we bring all of our work on the social and emotional competencies together, so that you can teach your children how they can resolve their conflicts or disagreements.

By now, you’ve helped your children learn some of the basic skills necessary for appropriately dealing with anger and resolving conflicts and disagreements. Your children now know how the 3 Sibling Steps (STOP, THINK, TALK) can be used along with perspective-taking (“See It Your Way, See It My Way”), identifying and expressing feelings, and emotion regulation (CHILL), to solve problems with sisters and brothers. Our goal now is to put this all together, along with some new skills in problem solving and conflict management, to help your children resolve squabbles that arise.

Part 1- Conflict Management is Really Just Solving a Problem

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    We encourage all parents in the household to participate in MFWSB as we believe that children will gain the most if all adults in the family share the same understanding of how to help siblings get along.

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    Part 2- Collaborative Problem Solving- A Joint Effort

    Viewing conflicts as problems in relationships enables us to use proven problem solving strategies as a way to manage conflicts. The problem solving strategy we like to use is called Collaborative Problem Solving… it is a step by step approach in which we teach children (or adults!) to work together to find solutions to the problem they are experiencing that will meet both of their needs.

    Collaborative Problem Solving gets away from the mindset of having one sibling be viewed as the “winner” of an argument, and the other, the “loser.” Identifying winners and losers of conflicts can only perpetuate power differentials between siblings and that is simply not productive. And we certainly don’t want to perpetuate situations in which a younger child consistently gives in to the demands of an older sibling. Instead, when the solution is intended to meet the needs of both children, both are winners. These are true “win-win” situations. And, that is our goal.

    The best part of Collaborative Problem Solving is that you, as a parent, don’t have to find the solution to the conflict or “fix” the problem. Instead, you will teach your children to do this. You will simply serve as a coach—making sure that children realize when they have a problem they need to solve and then give them prompts or reminders about how they can solve the problem.

    In other words, you don’t have to separate children to stop them from fighting. You won’t need to punish your kids—or threaten your kids with punishment—when they do fight. Instead, you will use the very systematic collaborative problem solving method to coach your kids through the conflict, until they have found a resolution that they feel meets each of their needs.

    Although it may feel complicated at first, you will certainly get the hang of it. And with practice, this will be much less of an emotionally draining process than the strategies parents typically use to try to get their children to stop fighting. It will become less emotionally draining because you will see results. It works. Over time and with your guidance, your children will learn the process and will become capable of doing it on their own to talk through and settle disagreements. Eventually, your job may be simply to remind kids when they need to use their Sibling Steps to solve problems and to be available to them if they need some help.

    Note: As we mentioned in Lesson 1, our focus is on conflicts that are verbal in nature. If you find your children engaging in physical forms of conflict, aggression or abuse, you will need professional clinical assistance. We would be happy to provide you with an appropriate referral, if this is the case.

    Part 3- Putting Conflict Management into Action Using the Sibling Steps

    Pulling it All Together

    Now, we need to teach children how to identify the problem they are facing and how to use brainstorming methods to come up with a bunch of possible solutions to their problem. We need to teach children to select solutions that will meet not only their own need, but also the needs of their siblings.

    Conflict Management builds upon all of the steps the children have learned so far plus problem solving:

    In the More Fun with Sisters and Brothers Program, the “See It Your Way, See It My Way” strategy is important for beginning the conflict management process. It helps children to settle their disagreements by talking it out, rather than through fighting or trying to distance themselves from one another. Then, the skills presented in Lesson 3 on Emotion Regulation can be used to help your children avoid letting their anger or frustration direct their behaviors. Instead, you will help your children to talk about their individual thoughts, needs and feelings and to use one of several ways to calm down and “chill.” And, once their calm and they understand each other’s point of view, they will be ready to do some brainstorming so they can come up with some possible solutions to their problem, try them out, and see if that solved the problem.

    The Siblings Steps:

    Stopping is important to help children focus their attention and to
    prevent them from reacting with anger.

    It is very possible that the first idea that the children agree to try won’t work to meet both of their needs. In those cases, it’s important to lead the children through a process by which they select and try out another possible solution to the problem. If none of the possible solutions that they came up with work, then they probably need to do some additional brainstorming. There are always more ways to try to solve a problem. We’re teaching persistence along with creative problem solving.

    Part 4- Try it Out!

    A Sample Conversation using All of the Steps:

    Parent: Hmm, looks you guys are having a problem and are getting upset. What can we do? What’s the first step?

    Tyrone and Samantha: STOP!

    Parent: Good! We’ve stopped. What do we do next?

    Tyrone and Samantha: THINK!

    Parent: Good. What do we need to think about?

    Tyrone and Samantha: See It Your Way, See It My Way.

    Parent: Good. But are you ready to do See It Your Way, See It My Way? Or, do you need to “CHILL” first?

    Tyrone and Samantha: We better chill.

    Parent: Okay. How would you two like to chill? [If a child cannot come up with an idea, the parent can ask: “What are some of the ways you can chill?”]

    Tyrone: I’ll go to my room and rest for a while.

    Samantha: I’ll do my calm breathing.

    Parent: Good. Let’s calm ourselves down before we TALK.

    After a while, the children and parents come back together to solve the problem.

    Parent: Okay, now are you both feeling calm and ready to do See It Your Way, See It My Way?

    Tyrone and Samantha: Yeah!

    Parent: Okay. Who wants to go first?

    Tyrone: I can. See it my way—I’d like to use the computer now because I am getting really good at my game and I want to see if I can get to the next level.

    Parent: Samantha, can you tell Tyrone what he/she wants to have happen and why?

    Samantha: So, you want the computer cause you can’t wait to get to the next level on your game. Okay, but see it my way. I want to use the computer ‘cause I really want to work on my letters. I want to write a newspaper some day and so I need to get at the computer.

    Parent: Tyrone, can you tell Samantha what he/she wants to have happen and why?

    Tyrone: She wants to practice typing so she can write a newspaper someday.

    Parent: Good job guys. So we have a problem with you both wanting to use the computer at the same time. Both of you have good reasons for wanting to use the computer now. So, is it time to TALK about what to do?

    Tyrone and Samantha: Yeah.

    Parent: What are some ways you can solve this problem? Do you want to do the BRAINSTORM BOOGIE, or go to a CONCENTRATION STATION to think of ideas?

    Tyrone: I’ll do the Brainstorm Boogie

    Samantha: I’d rather go to a Concentration Station to think.

    Parent: Okay. Go ahead and think of as many ideas as you can to solve this problem.

    [children do this]

    Parent: Okay, let’s talk about all the ideas you had. I’ll write them down so we don’t forget. Who wants to start?

    Tyrone: I think we can take turns…. Maybe we can set a timer so we each get the same amount of time on the computer

    Samantha: Maybe I can ask mom to take down that old typewriter from the closet and I can practice my typing on that….

    Parent: Good. Can you come up with any other ideas to solve the problem?

    Tyrone: Well, maybe neither one of us gets to use the computer.

    Parent: You’re right—that is another way to solve this problem. Can you think of any other ways to solve it?

    Tyrone and Samantha: No.

    Parent: No? Let’s take another minute to think about this.

    Tyrone: What about if we used the computer together to play a word game? We can play it together and you can be playing a computer game and I could be working on my letters?

    Samantha: Yeah. I like that idea.

    Parent: Okay. Let’s remember all of the ideas you suggested (review the list). Which one of these ideas do you think will work best?

    [Lead children through a process of selecting a possible solution and trying it out. If this solution doesn’t work, ask children to try a different idea].

    The problem is solved when all of the kids feel that their most important needs have been satisfied. They know that they did a good job when BOTH ARE HAVING FUN!

    Teaching children to resolve their own conflicts will, over time, relieve parents from having to be the ones to settle arguments and negotiate outcomes. Children will become more self-sufficient and more capable of establishing good relationships with many types of individuals, including their siblings!

    You may have noticed that in this example, Tyrone began by talking about how HE saw things. We actually encourage children to first “See it Your Way”—not their own way. (So we would encourage Tyrone to also see Samantha’s point of view). This is to help them remember that their sibling’s view is also very important—just as important as their own—even if they don’t agree. We’re trying to encourage children to avoid being overly self-focused.

    Part 5- Incorporating Collaborative Problem Solving into Daily Life

    Suggestions for Carrying Out These Skills at Home:
    1. Monitor your children. Watch for instances when your children could use the steps to resolve a disagreement.
    1. Head off conflicts by reminding children to use the steps when small disagreements arise. A statement as simple as, “Hmm. It looks as though you two may be having a problem. What’s the first step you can use to work this out?” This should remind them to say, “STOP!” You can lead them through the rest of the problem solving sequence by using the steps above.
    1. Although young siblings may be able to use the steps on their own in many situations, sometimes your help and guidance is needed to get them through the process. In this case, use the steps as “cues”—help them remember what to do, but encourage them to do their own thinking and talking to solve the problem.
    1. Encourage children for using skills correctly. Verbal praise is extremely effective for reinforcing positive problem solving methods. Example: “Great job! Your remembered all the steps for solving a problem. You told your sister/brother you didn’t like what was happening without yelling!”

    Part 6- Treating Siblings the Same and Differently

    One common complaint that we hear from children is that they feel that their parents treat them and their siblings differently, in ways that they consider to be UNFAIR. This issue of parental differential treatment is an important one to think about because it is can leave lasting impressions on children.

    First, some myth-busting is in order:

    1. It is not necessary—or even wise— to always treat your children exactly the same. Even it was possible to always treat each of your children in the same ways, it’s not what children expect or even want.

    Children want their parents to respect that they and their sibling are different people. Not only may they be of different ages and gender, but they also may have very different interests, different personalities, and different needs. Children want parents to recognize and appreciate these differences and to treat them accordingly— even if it means treating kids in the family differently.

    1. Equal treatment is not always viewed as fair treatment. Setting a 7pm bedtime for both a 4-year-old and a 9-year-old is equal. But it would not been viewed as fair– especially by the older child.

    Our research has shown quite clearly that children want to be treated “fairly” rather than equally. Fair treatment means that parents act in accordance of what children need. Buying a new pair of pajamas for one child who has only PJs with holes is acting in accordance with a child’s needs, even if their sibling is not receiving a new pair. If you buy that child some new PJs and something different that the sibling needs, you are probably being “fair” in your differential treatment because you are meeting each child’s needs.

    Children who acknowledged that their parents treated them differently, but that this treatment was fair, had more positive relationships with their siblings and with their parents than children who felt that the differential treatment they experienced was unfair. They also felt more positively about themselves—they had a higher sense of self-worth.

    So, what the research has taught us is this:

    1. Children understand when parents treat children differently if they are working to meet a particular need that the sibling has. Children who realized that their sibling was treated better in some way—but that this occurred because their parents were trying to meet a need that their sibling had— reported having better relationships with their sibling and parents. For example, children who said that their parents spent more time with their sibling than with themselves did this because their sibling needed more attention (perhaps they were having a problem at school and needed help) had better outcomes.
    1. What children do NOT accept is when a parent is more affectionate to one child than another— this is because they feel that there is no good reason for this. And they’re probably right. There are not too many situations in which it seems fair to children that one of them is showered with attention and affection and others are not. Something for us all to watch out for.
    1. While children may often complain about unfair treatment, in reality, families hardly ever talk about differential treatment. They don’t often discuss how children in the family may be treated differently. And they hardly ever discuss the REASONS why certain children are treated differently.

    This means that, left to their own devices, every family member is likely to form their own ideas about WHY children are being treated differently. And many of these ideas may simply be wrong in that they may not match parents’ actual intentions.

    For example, without explaining why a parent always goes to one child’s soccer games and never to the other child’s dance recitals, the children may believe that the parent simply likes the child who plays soccer better than the one who dances. As you could imagine, this could lead to a lot of difficulties for a family—especially if a child keeps this feeling to herself and doesn’t bring it up as a concern. Because this may not at all be what the parent feels—for example, third shift work responsibilities may make it impossible for a parent to get to those dance recitals— it’s important to explain to children what’s behind differential treatment.

    1. Learning to feel comfortable talking with children about differential treatment—and being willing to listen to their concerns and thoughts— will come with practice and an open mind. Don’t be too quick to defend your behavior. Listen to your children. Validate their feelings (remember “emotion coaching”). They may point out things that you do that you may not be aware of—ways that they may feel hurt or slighted even though that was not at all your intention. With this knowledge, you may decide to change your behavior…. If not by treating children more fairly, by explaining WHY you feel it is appropriate to treat children differently in this particular situation. Giving a reason for your actions is very powerful and can lead children to a new understanding of you and your parenting choices. It’s also true that through conversations like these, they will better understand your position and perhaps agree that differential treatment in this case is warranted and fair.

    Part 7- For More Fun

    Here are some ideas for how you can encourage your children to really brainstorm when they are trying to solve a problem:

    1. Help your children to make CONCENTRATION STATIONS out of light blue fabric. Cut out a 2’ x 3’ rectangle. Use white fabric paint to draw clouds. Allow the children to decorate as they like.

    2. Select music that can be used for while brainstorming at the CONCENTRATION STATION (maybe yoga music?) and while performing the BRAINSTORM BOOGIE (think Earth, Wind and Fire).

    3. Having these props and music handy will help you get your children to buy into the brainstorming process required for Conflict Management and Problem Solving.

    Part 8- Bottom Line:

    You’ve now learned the elements of good problem solving. Although it may seem difficult to remember all of the steps when you’re in the midst of trying to get your kids to work together instead of fighting, don’t worry. There’s no one right way to do this. With practice, you’ll find your groove. Here are the key ideas to keep in mind:

    – Don’t buy into the “she started it” or “he’s right/she’s wrong” mentality. If siblings are having a conflict, they both have a problem. It doesn’t really matter what caused it. Focus on getting the kids to slow down (STOP), manage feelings of anger or frustration (CHILL) so that they can effectively explain their own positions and understand their sibling’s position (SEE IT YOUR WAY, SEE IT MY WAY), which will set the stage for some good brainstorming about ways to solve the problem so they both get their more important needs met.

    • Be patient. The first strategy used to solve a problem may not work. Kids need to learn to be persistent and keep trying different approaches until they have found a solution that works for both of them.
    • Your role is to guide or coach children through this process. You do not have to solve the problem for them. But, you do need to ensure that they both have the tools they need to work on difficult problems.
    • It’s not okay for one child to always “give in” to the other. We want each child to learn how to stay in there when unpleasant feelings arise during conflict, so that they can persist and find a mutually acceptable solution.
    • A problem is solved (a conflict is managed) when both children feel good about the outcome. In More Fun with Sisters and Brothers Program language, they are both “having fun.”

    Part 9- CHECKING IN

    Now it’s time to see what you have learned and how things have changed in your family since beginning the More Fun with Sisters and Brothers Program. We ask that you take some time to share with us your current thoughts about your children’s relationship with one another, and with you, so that we can determine how helpful the program has been for you and your family.

    When you complete the questionnaires, we will provide you with access to some materials that will help you teach all of the More Fun with Sisters and Brothers Program skills with your children in a way they should enjoy:

    • Story Books
    • Activity Book
    • A Rap Song

    Please click below to access the questionnaires.


    Part 10- More Fun with Sisters and Brothers Program Story Books, Activity Book, and Rap Song

    Being able to manage difficult emotions is a critical step for being able to manage disagreements with siblings. In Lesson 4, we will show you how you can draw upon these emotion regulation skills to teach your children a very simple problem solving strategy for resolving conflicts.

    In the live version of the More Fun with Sisters and Brothers Program with 4- to 8-year old children, we introduce the siblings to a set of 4 puppets who represent two sisters (Jaxie, Trixie) and two brothers (Moxie and Stax) from the Planet Xandia. The puppets, who have arrived on a spaceship, are here to learn from our earth children about how to help the siblings on Xandia get along. The puppets act out situations in which the skills we are teaching in the program can be used to help sisters and brothers have fun together and manage disagreements.

    The activity book and series of bedtime stories recount tales in which the Xandian brothers and sisters face challenges in getting along and how they use the Sibling Steps taught in the More Fun with Sisters and Brothers Program to learn to have more fun together and manage conflicts. The Rap Song provides children with a fun way to remember all of the skills you’ve been teaching them.

    Meet the Xandians

    We are pleased to offer you access to these materials so that you can share them with your children as you continue to teach them about how to establish good sibling relationships.
    To help you use these materials most effectively, we’d like to share the following dialogue between two of our characters as they describe their need for help from our “earth children:”

    Stax: Planet Xandia, where we come from, has lots of clouds.

    Jaxie: The clouds are made by special cloud making machines that can make clouds of any shape. They are LOTS of fun to play with. Every family has a cloud machine, and it is powered by how much fun the sisters and brothers in that family have together. When sisters and brothers are having lots of fun, the cloud machine makes lots of very cool clouds.

    Trixie: Our cloud machine even made us a spaceship to take us all the way to planet Earth. But it can make all sorts of other fun things, like slides and castles and trampolines.

    Stax: Have you ever jumped on a cloud trampoline? They are sooooo fun!

    Moxie: But, for some reason, most of the sisters and brothers on Xandia haven’t been having very much fun together lately. And their cloud making machines are only making storm clouds. So now our planet is surrounded by storm clouds and it is raining and lightning all the time!

    Stax: The whole planet is starting to flood with water because it is raining so much!

    Jaxie: So, the king and queen of our planet, King Puffy and Queen Fluffy, have sent us to planet Earth to learn about how the Earth children have so much fun together. We are supposed to learn this so we can take the information back to our planet, and help the sisters and brothers on Planet Xandia have more fun, so the cloud machines will stop making storm clouds and make the fun kinds of clouds again!

    Trixie: So Earthlings, will you help us to learn how to get along with our sisters and brothers, so we can save our planet from flooding?

    Enjoy using these materials with your children. We wish you all the best as you and your family continues to have MORE FUN WITH SISTERS AND BROTHERS.

    Thank you for your participation.