Solving Conflicts At Home by Angela C. Santomero, M.A., author, PRESCHOOL CLUES: Raising Smart, Inspired, and Engaged Kids in a Screen-Filled World

(photo credit: William Taufic)

Whatever the root of the drama in your preschooler’s world, the ultimate goal with any conflict is to get them invested in their own outcomes in the same way they are invested in their own drama.

While a dramatic story written for preschoolers and a drama of their own making may be completely different in content and context, they have one important similarity—investment. In both situations, we are working toward developing a preschooler’s ability to understand that what they do impacts everyone around them. And in order for them to fully be open to that learning, they need to be invested and feel that what they do and how they do it will affect the outcome. Of course, preschoolers are already invested in their own drama. They want that cookie. They need that iPad. They have to have what they want and they have to have it now. Our goal is to get that same level of passion, spirit, and drive into solving the drama, too.

What we learn from watching our kids watch media is that when they are emotionally invested in the story, they have to know how it will end. Have you ever tried to turn off the TV on your preschooler before a show was over? I have. And I witnessed a major meltdown! That’s because they are invested. They care. They are so motivated that they will jump to their feet and do what they can to figure out a solution. We want to harness that unabashed preschool drive and investment and steer it in the direction of solving their own problems with similar zest.

Breaking it down, here are the steps we use in our TV storytelling that we can also use with our preschoolers in real life to help them be invested in solving their problems.

Step 1: Pause

The benefits of taking a moment to Pause when solving conflicts can’t be overstated. Think about it: many of the best mindfulness strategies begin with taking a deep breath and pausing to collect your thoughts. In the quiet of the Pause, many of the best ideas come to be. When we Pause in real life, sometimes we’re giving our preschoolers time to have their meltdown (yes, even in the middle of the grocery store) and time to for us to breathe and think. Though it’s not always easy to remember when we’re facing a DEFCON 1–level crisis, it’s important that our preschoolers realize that they need to first calm down before anyone can successfully resolve any conflict. The Pause allows us to take a moment to figure out our best coping strategies. As parents, we can identify some coping strategies and offer them to our preschoolers. The best coping strategies need to start with a moment to calm down. After that, we can affirm our preschooler’s emotions and reassure them that a solution can be found.

Step 2: Empower

After we take the time to Pause, we want to empower our preschoolers. We empower them by being positive and affirming, empathetic, and understanding. We don’t belittle or shame. Just because they are preschoolers doesn’t mean their problems are small (to them). The way in which they deal with their preschool problems will directly correlate to how effectively they deal with bigger problems when they become middle schoolers, then teenagers, and then successful adults. Empower by:

  • Affirming: nodding to show you understand.
  • Giving a hug to show them you’re on their side.
  • Staying calm to show this problem can be solved.
  • Leaning in to show we’re actively listening.

Step 3: Interact

We interact with our preschoolers to help them come up with their own best tools for coping and resolving conflicts. To do that, we ask questions that guide them to solving conflicts in their own way. We are there to help brainstorm ideas, nudge them toward new ways to think about something, and offer thoughtful questions to help them come to grips with their overwhelming feelings, such as:

  • “How did this make you feel?” (Feeling question)
  • “That sounds terrible. Sounds like you really want that.” (Affirming question)
  • “What do you think we should do? What are other ideas you have?” (Brainstorming question)
  • “What would make you feel better? How can we solve this problem?” (Solution-oriented question)

Called a “modern-day Fred Rogers” by his wife, ANGELA C. SANTOMERO, M.A., is the co-creator of Blue’s Clues and the creator of  Daniel Tiger’s NeighborhoodCreative Galaxy, Super Why!, and Wishenproof. Her work has been cited in numerous publications including Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller, The Tipping Point. She lives in New York with her husband, daughters, and their two dogs. Preschool Clues is her first book.


Excerpted from Preschool Clues by Angela C. Santomero, M.A. Copyright © 2018 by Santo Studios LLC. Excerpted with permission by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.