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Today, my five year old complained while pouting that his teenage sister was making him mad. After a few minutes of asking about situation, it provided opportunity for a hug and a brief conversation about the only one who can decide how you feel is you, not your sister. We also briefly talked about telling her that her actions caused him to feel bad–he was grumpy today.

This was a chance to address emotional intelligence and problem solving (of the conflict resolution variety). Given the ages involved and the normally pleasant disposition of the teen involved, the emotional agency concept was an initial and brief discussion that will need reinforcement later. Today was more on problem solving. Defining the problem is the first step in troubleshooting. Helping the child to state the problem helps them to see next steps in solving it. Of course at this age verbalizing their feelings may need some guiding from the adult.

Nonverbals: When the child knows you care and you stop what you are doing and kneel down to address them at their level, it helps build the trust needed to try to verbalize what they want or how they feel. Waiting while they find the right words can seem slow at times, but is worth it for their development.

Sometimes children this age also need help in coming up with ideas for how to solve the problem in a win-win way. We talked through all of this in less than five minutes (their attention span may be short too). Then after agreeing to a new way to resolve the situation, off he went. I later hear both of them talking nicely with each other. Another lesson discovered by the child.

So problem solving step-by-step in this instance looks like this:

  1. The child’s expectation was A, the situation provided B instead. The child attached upset emotions to the gap. The gap between expected and actual is the problem.

  2. With young children it takes some time to gather the facts that might occur much faster with older children and teens. Gathering information helps to define the problem and understand the assumptions involved.

  3. Identifying the root cause of the problem in this case is pretty easy. Teen sibling acted differently than expected. 5-year-old got frustrated with that outcome.

Since we cannot control the behavior of others, and can only control how we respond, the options to fix this are pretty straight forward.

  1. He applied the intervention in this case by tell the sister that “I don’t like it when you tickle me when I am trying to play with my toys. Please do not do that.” If the child were older, perhaps they could negotiate a tickling session later when done with the toys. Ha ha. Teen sibling apologized, and agreed not to tickle during toy playing time, while suppressing a giggle.

  2. Problem solved. Conflict resolved.

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KW Lanham


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