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Family Files

Handling Children's Conflict

Recently my niece posted a copy of a contract that her father developed when she and her brother were little that set out the rules for playing with Legos.  The contract has 6 (!) segments, with my favorite stating that the contract starts on February 12, 1995, it ends at the year 2002, with a new contract written at that time.  If no new contract is written at that time, then my nephew gets the Legos until he is 29 years old.  (He's past that now and I don't know what happened to the Legos after his 29th birthday!)

There are several styles that adults may use when dealing with children's conflict.  Read them below and then decide what style my brother-in-law was employing!
  • Sergeant - The adult decides what needs to be done and directs the children to do it.  The sergeant style needs to be used if safety is an issue - children can be quickly moved to a safe area.  However, when the adult makes all the decisions, children never learn to solve their own problems.
  • Judge & Jury - The adult decides who was right and who was wrong and then takes action.  Children learn to depend on adults to solve their problems, and as with the sergeant, never learn to solve problems themselves.  Also, with the judge and jury, one child wins and and the other loses.
  • Referee - The adult listens to both sides of a story, then tells the children what they are going to do.  Again, children may never have the chance to work on solving the problem, and the referee may never get to the root of the problem either.
  • Bystander - The adult doesn't take any action unless someone is getting hurt.  Children quickly learn how to manipulate the bystanders to get and do what they want - no limits are set unless someone is getting hurt.
  • Peacemaker - As with the referee, the adult listens to both sides of the story.  However, in this case the children are asked for ways to solve the problem and both children must agree.  This is the preferred way to handle children's conflict, but it is the most time-consuming.

I do know one thing about the Lego contract - it worked on some level, because a few years ago I was with my niece and nephew (okay, so they were both adults by that time) and we were in a Lego store, and no fights broke out!

Source:  Penn State Extension Better Kid Care Instructor's Guide for Problem Solving with Children. For more information on this topic or other programs, please visit