Continuing with our ‘Setting the Standards’ blog series today we look at how we manage the ‘fall out’ of conflict in our nursery settings.

2: I am fully involved in all decisions about my care and support.

2:8 Compassion: I am supported to communicate in a way that’s right for me, at my own pace, by people who are sensitive to me and my needs.

2:15 Be Included: I am enabled to resolve conflict, agree rules and build positive relationships with other people as much as I can.

Health & Social Care Standards June 2017


When children interact and play together conflict is inevitable. It is not something to be avoided or feared and can be a great learning opportunity for them. After all conflict is present in the adult world too! Developing the skills to manage those times in their early years, sets our children up for success.

In two of our nursery settings we have children from 2-5 years old (the other has 3-5year olds) and as you know the developmental stage of a 2 year old is physically and emotionally very different to that of a 5 year old. So our challenge is to develop an ethos and way of respectfully caring for children that is developmentally appropriate across the span of children we work with.

Each child (whatever their age) is considered an equal and valuable member of our nursery community (if you’ve read our previous blogs you’ll know we’ve talked about this before – if not, why not?! Only joking) so how do we manage conflict when this is the case?

Lets take an example of a ‘physical altercation’ scenario where a 2 year old has hit or pushed over a 3 year old. The 3 year old is crying. What do you do?

Obviously we comfort the upset child and make sure they are not physically hurt or in need of any immediate medical care. But what then? How do we make sure the 2 year old knows that this behaviour is not acceptable? How do we make them feel sorry? Should we make them say sorry?

2 year olds are generally not sorry.

I’m being a little tongue in cheek here, but the reality is that they live very much in the moment. There will have been a legitimate and very rudimentary reason as to why they chose that course of action be it frustration, to meet an end, to achieve their goal faster or just to see what the cause and effect would be (like dropping food off a high chair or poking something down a tube). Maybe they are just hungry and are yet to develop the skills to control their impulses and recognise the signs in their own body.

It is in essence a very normal and experimental thing to do, perfectly age and stage appropriate behaviour.

There is a line of thought that says socially educating children should be a kind of ‘fake it till you make it’ scenario – make them say sorry even though they don’t mean it, often with a measurable ‘consequence/punishment’ (time out/thinking time). At some point (the advice is never quite clear about when) children will learn that ‘negative actions’ have consequences they don’t want, and that you have to say sorry if you have hurt someone.

“But I said SORRY!”

Ever met the kid who expects to use “sorry” as a ‘get out of jail free card’? Or the one who punches their brother in the face, then puts themself in a timeout – thinking, ‘ it was worth it, I’ll keep my head down, do my time and be out in 7’ (minutes!)

Children are smart. Really smart. So how can we help them develop not only the nuts and bolts of how to behave with kindness and compassion but to genuinely understand why?

We develop empathy.

We have a multi pronged approach on this.

  • We develop a culture of kindness and respect within our settings and we discuss the kinds of behaviours and interactions we want to experience as a group, suggested and agreed on by the children.
  • We use circle time to discuss ‘gentle hands’ (not using your hands to hurt another child)  and ‘kind words’ – not to give them a hard time but to be clear about our expectations and why it’s important.
  • We have utilised ‘The Bucket Story’ to discuss doing kind things for and to each other and how when we do unkind things to each other it ’empties our buckets’ – and the feelings that might be attached to that.
  • We provide strategies to children including ‘make some space’ whereby if they are not comfortable or beginning to feel frustrated they can walk away, play somewhere else or just ‘put a bit if space between them and the thing/person at the source of their frustration’ – we are in a privileged position to do this with no walls and roofed only by the sky (all hail the outdoor nursery!)
  • We model appropriate behaviour to children and to each other as a team.
  • We also have clear and fair ‘rules’ in place about sharing as discussed here That’s MY stick!

So back to our scenario, what would we do?

We choose not to enforce an insincere apology.

It is never acceptable for a child to physically assault another, if this is still happening we would separate the children and calmly make it clear that ‘I will not let you hurt/hit child X’

Listening to both sides without judgement. Ask what happened and review both sides with the children “So child X came into your space while you were playing and didn’t move when you asked them to, Child Y you didn’t hear him ask so you didn’t move, child X you got annoyed he wasn’t listening to you so you hit him”

Be clear about separating the behaviour from the child – the action is not acceptable, the child is always accepted. We don’t use wording like wrong, bad, naughty etc We might use ‘I can understand you were frustrated, but it is not ok to hit them’.

If the child is non verbal or limited verbal they may not respond. That is ok, we give them the opportunity to be heard and still involve them in the resolution. If we have seen the situation occur we can often verbalize it for them.

For a young child we can model caring behaviour without judgement. We might say sorry ‘for the child’ – while comforting child X “I’m sorry child Y hit you, are you ok? What can I do to make you feel better?” Then give the other child the opportunity to join in with this or see it taking place.

If the child is older/developmentally more advanced we might involve them more actively in finding a solution, by sportscasting what happened, reviewing the situation without bias and then asking child Y “what might we be able to do to make child X feel better?”

We also support the ‘hit child’ to feel safe in our community (we will not allow them to be hurt in our care) but to not view the situation as ‘victim and perpetrator’ (as this is rarely helpful for either party) and give them strategies to take control of their own safety too “maybe we can give children a bit more space in future too” or “next time maybe check its ok to be that close”.

It’s not an exact science, childhood rarely is! But again it works for us, we do not see many incidents like the scenario described and the general feel in our settings is calm and supportive. We also avoid the trap of managing behaviour with shame or punishment, which would damage relationships and the children’s self esteem. All whilst keeping children of different ages and stages learning and playing together.




Ref: The Bucket Story – by Carol McCloud

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