During these challenging and uncertain times, children are socializing in very small groups, if at all. Although a small “social pod” is certainly better than having no opportunity to get together with friends, it can be challenging for children to get along well when they see the same friends all the time and don’t have the chance to expand their social circle. Conflict is a normal and natural part of social interaction, and understanding how to resolve conflicts is an important part of what young children need your help to learn.
Here are some tips for parents and teachers of small “social learning pods” to help their children or students master good social skills:
- Create a culture in your group that includes everyone. Help children think of each other as a family and recognize that they need to support everyone in the group even if they sometimes can be annoying.
- Acknowledge that even in a cohesive family, there are times when one child may not want to play with another child. Teach them how to express those feelings in a caring and kind way. Allow children to say, “I don’t want to play with you right now”, but set an expectation that they will include the child at a later time. Make it clear that all the children in the group are friends, even if they may not feel like playing together at the moment.
- Resist the temptation to solve problems for the children. Brainstorming solutions and coming to an agreement about what to do are important skills for children in your group to learn together.
- Make sure the plan is followed through, so the children know that they can trust the process.
- If one child seems to have a harder time than others getting along, observe the dynamics to see what skills this child may need help with. Perhaps the child needs guidance about how to enter into play effectively. Teach them about how to tune in to what the other children are doing and figure out how they can contribute rather than taking over or being disruptive. Encourage the child to join a group with an idea rather than to ask if they can play.
- Help to facilitate play by modeling appropriate behavior and conversation yourself. Then, as the children begin to engage with each other positively, slowly step back and become an observer allowing them to continue without your involvement. Maintaining your physical presence will help the play sequence last longer.
- Plan some independent activities to give the children a break from each other during the day.
- If there are only three children in the pod, look for a 4th to diffuse the “two’s company, three’s a crowd” dynamic.
When a conflict arises between children, take the time to help them problem-solve by using these 6 steps:
- Neutralize the situation by taking control of the thing that is causing the conflict until an agreement is reached.
- Listen to each child’s point of view about the conflict and encourage them to listen to each other.
- Define or summarize what you understand the problem to be about.
- Ask the children to brainstorm several possible solutions to the problem
- Help the children to choose one of the solutions that they identified
- Help them implement the solution making sure the plan is followed.
Learning how to enter into play, resolve conflicts, and accept differences are very important skills that children learn during their early years in school. Parents and teachers can have a great impact on the development of these skills when they take the time to work on it with their children. Inclusivity is something we all want to emphasize during stressful times.