Often giving in to children is the easiest, most expedient way to avoid a full blown temper tantrum, to turn off the tears, or to make them happy, but it deprives young children of developing coping skills that allow them to bounce back from setbacks.

Disappointments are part of life. Adults are able to roll with punches because they have resilience. If it rains, then we might not go down the shore because it’s not a good beach day, so we go to a movie instead. Or if our favorite brand of chips sells out we get a rain check or make a substitution.

But more importantly reaching goals and being successful  in school or other pursuits begins with developing the ability to bounce back after numerous failed attempts, or after all the little and big disappointments throughout our day.

So why do some adults shield children from this vital learning process?

This is typically what happens in the classroom or at home. For example, when three-year-old Jenny removes a block from Jason’s tower just because it is the perfect size and shape for her building and incorporates into her own building, then Jason is angry and Jenny doesn’t understand why. When the adult acts as a facilitator, then both children are part of the process. Giving in to one or the other bypasses the process that children need to learn so that they can eventually resolve conflicts without adult intervention.

In “I Had It First: Teaching Young Children to Solve Problems Peacefully” two early childhood professors Suzanne K. Adams and Donna Sasse Wittmer at University of Colorado developed a practical plan (when they co-authored the ECE-CARES project) that I have implemented in my pre-k classroom every day. For larger issues we’ve used this format to discuss common conflicts in classroom meetings.

 5 Steps to Problem Solving

  1. What is the problem?
  2. What can I do?
  3. What might happen if?
  4. Choose a solution?
  5. Is it working? If not what can I do now?


At the time of the conflict, I add the following steps prior to step one. Encourage both children to take three deep breaths to calm down—which can be done together. Remember to acknowledge children’s feelings and allow each child to explain his/her side to help define the problem.


This is how it would play out.  Once Jenny and Jason understand what the problem is, we brainstorm multiple solutions. If both children are stuck, then the adult can begin to offer solutions. Yes, this does lengthen the process at first--but in the long run, it helps children to cope with and resolve conflicts—even as young as age three and four. That is the developmental age when they begin to engage in cooperative play. Although they start out very egocentric, eventually they begin to come up with their own solutions—sometimes based on what has worked previously. The adult models the process until it becomes automatic.

Here are some additional resources to check out:


Raising a Thinking Child Workbook: Teaching Young Children How to Resolve Everyday Conflicts and Get Along with Others

by Shure, Myrna B.


Raising Resilient Children: Fostering Strength, Hope, and Optimism in Your Child

By Robert Brooks















Published by Lynda Art