I've been trying to teach my 3 and a half year old son to treat other children nicely and to try and resolve all conflicts without aggression, by talking. We've been talking about the issue and agreed on a couple of rules. Namely, that he should always wait for his turn to play with things and that instead of fighting his way through a conflict he should talk to the child he's arguing with.

Once we get to the playground, I can see him trying to follow those two rules, but he fails each and every time. Even if he waits for his turn to play, others in front of him fight over who gets to go first. If he builds something and somebody is messing up his thing, he first says that he didn't like it and then, when it doesn't help, he slaps them or hits them with a toy.

For example, the other day he was digging a large hole in the ground when some other boy came up to him and started filling the hole up with sand again. My son tried telling him to stop and that he didn't like that, but that boy ignored him and continued filling up the hole. So, my son ended up hitting him. I have always disapproved of such behavior, but I keep thinking that it is tough for him, because I cannot really think of a reliable way of resolving these types of conflicts.

If I'm telling my son not to fight and to try and resolve conflicts by talking, what I can I do if other children either don't listen to him or show him that fighting is perfectly normal?

How should I teach him to react if other children ignore his efforts to resolve conflicts peacefully?


6 Answers 6


Your son has learned an important lesson, you cannot resolve all conflicts without aggression.

What I can I do if other children either don't listen to him or show him that fighting is perfectly normal? And how should I tell him to react if other children ignore his efforts to resolve conflicts peacefully?

Now you need to tell them what to do when talking doesn't work. Since you seem to be against all fighting to resolve conflicts, even self defense, you need to tell your child to ask a higher authority to resolve any conflicts that he is unable to do peacefully with words. This might entail calling upon you, a teacher, or in very serious issues the state. All three of you have various powers to resolve issues, peaceful and otherwise. You can protect your child, or find the parent of the child who is behaving badly and inform them of the issue. Teachers can remove students who are causing problems on the playground. The Police and other State agents have the legal authority to resolve conflicts forcefully.

Whichever route you choose, no doubt your child will learn another valuable life lesson.

  • Thank you for your answer, it got me thinking. Teaching him to turn to a higher authority instead of defending himself doesn't seem like the right way to go. So, the other route would then be to teach him how to defend himself in those situations without too much aggression, right? I guess that would be a more useful lesson. Commented May 2, 2014 at 5:07
  • 1
    @AntonZejev, of would depend upon the situation. The examples you gave didn't indicate that your child was being physically harmed (filling in holes, or messing up things he has built wouldn't qualify for self defense.)
    – user1873
    Commented May 2, 2014 at 5:49
  • sure, that's not real self-defense. But is it justifiable to let him, I don't know, catch the other child by the arm when he doesn't stop interfering with his game, after he tried talking? Or is it better to teach him to turn to authorities? I feel like the latter way would undermine his ability to defend himself on his own in more serious situations later on. Commented May 2, 2014 at 7:47
  • This is a really interesting topic. As a first time father of a 1.5 year old, I'm keen on hearing more discourse.
    – justinl
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 3:29
  • Children especially at that age are hardly candidates to learn diplomacy skills. They are influenced by authority and physical force. Probably best to teach them to avoid the latter unless it is a matter of self defense, and get an adult to intervene instead.
    – tmn
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 3:10

You live in a society, where (as has been noted by the previous posters) life is most definitely not fair. Still, we need to be resourceful enough to avoid hitting. Your child hitting someone who is not hitting him - i.e. not a situation of self-defense - is inappropriate. He can't be allowed to solve a disagreement, dispute, or show his displeasure by hitting. He has an unhealthy response to not getting his way, and that's your challenge to help him overcome. That's not the other kid's fault.

In a playground and other situations, you are his protector and his teacher. You need to decide which life lesson it is that you want to teach him. Do you want to teach him resilience? Then teach him it's not the end of the world if some little kid fills in his hole. Teach him that self control is better than getting his way. Teach him to find a quieter spot. Teach him to look around for activities he might like just as much as digging a hole, which was met with a "failure", but was not caused by him. Teach him to ask for your assistance (that's not teaching him to be a victim, it's teaching him that someone is watching out for him). Teach him to find and play with kids who play well. Teach him to think of ways he can help himself to feel better in the face of these small injustices. But don't expect other kids on the playground to teach him these life lessons, or that people get along well ll the time. It just isn't going to happen.

Give him an emotional vocabulary so that when someone fills in the hole he dug, you can ask him how he felt about that, but don't allow him to hit in response. Help him manage his emotions, by talking about why kids might do that: it's not necessarily that they are mean or ill-behaved; it may simply be a different definition of play for the other person.

Give him perspective: by talking, help your child remember ways that he or she has successfully handled similar situations in the past. Help him understand that these past challenges help him build the strength to handle present and future challenges. If he handles something appropriately, praise his decision. It's really not too early to teach him resilience.

Finally, give him a home filled with love, openness, empathy, and respect, so that the injustices of life pale in comparison to the warmth and safety of home.

10 Tips For Raising Resilient Kids
Resilience Guide for Parents & Teachers
Building Resilience in Young Children: Booklet for parents of children from birth to six years


You've hit upon one of the great dilemmas of human society.
In school we are taught to NEVER HIT ANOTHER PERSON EVER OR YOU WILL BURN IN HELL! But at the first sign of political disturbance, we declare war.

The problem is that "Everything can be resolved through communication" is a lie.
Most things can be resolved through communication, but only if the other party is like minded.

Asking a bully to stop, gets you a slap.
Telling a teacher on a bully, gets you a slap.
You can never effectively use these idealistic techniques in childhood in every situation.

I think the important thing to do is to be honest with the child. Tell them there will always be people who do not follow these guidelines. You need to let them know that following these guidelines is the right thing to do, and that they should feel good about trying to follow them, even if they fail.

If they question why the other children do not follow them, perhaps reassure them that in time they will learn, and that the other children are just maybe not so lucky to be taught the right way so early.
By teaching them to handle situations as you have, you have given them the upper hand in adulthood. They will not see it yet, because in childhood, the loudest voice and the strongest fist has the upper hand, so you need to reassure them that this is the way the world works, even though they can't see it yet.

I spent my childhood years desperately trying to implement these peaceful tactics, without success. But I am thankful that my parents taught me them, because now I believe myself to be more emotionally mature and better suited to adult life than some of those who I grew up with.

As user1873 mentions, it may difficult, but it is an important lesson.

  • Love the second half of this answer. Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 18:09

At 3 1/2, your child is an apprentice at dealing with other people. He need not face these playground challenges completely alone.

By walking with your son to the park, you are doing half your job. The other half is to get involved with the play when necessary -- rather than just relaxing on the bench chatting with the other parents.

You will need to intervene less and less as time goes by.

You can intervene in a gentle, friendly way, for example, "Hey, my friend, would you like to put some sand in the hole I made, over here?" Or, "Let's put some sand in this bucket! We can turn it over and make a pretend birthday cake!" At the slide, you can say, "We're waiting turns! I think this little girl is next. Would you like to go after this little boy [the one at the end of the line]?"

If a child in the playground is behaving particularly badly, you can ask, "Where is your adult?" or "Show me where Mommy is." As long as you are gentle in how you tell the parent what's been going on, in my experience, the other parent is glad to know things have been getting out of hand. You can say, for example, "There are a lot of children waiting their turn for the slide, and your little boy was getting very frustrated. Can you come and lend a hand?" You don't have to say, explicitly, "Your son is pushing everyone out of the way, and children are getting hurt."

It takes a village.


I would first consider the age of the other child who was filling the hole. if the child is of about same age or younger than your son then I would simply assume that if one child is enjoying by digging a hole then other is enjoying by filling it.

If your son is hitting the other child for filling the hole then I would ask him to wait and see what the other child will do after filling the hole. does the other child want your child to dig it again? or will he dig it for himself. They have just created a game to play with each other.


Not all problems can be resolved peacefully unless you are willing to capitulate and that is certainly frustrating. We make a big deal about fairness, but life isn't fair and neither is everyone you are going to meet. That being said, it sounds by your description of events, that it is generally your child that escalates a conflict to a physical altercation. That is not going to serve them well in life. So while no, you can't influence the actions of the other kids, you sure as heck can influence the actions of your own.

My kids were always allowed to defend themselves, in fact, encouraged to. And were always told (especially my daughter) that anyone touching you where it was unwanted was unacceptable, and that she had full permission to do anything and everything in her power to make that stop. Period and with my full support. I don't want to raise future victims. I want to raise people who end fights - not start them.

But if my kid was the first to hit another - it was time to go home! Right this instant, no second chances and no finishing whatever you were doing. Done! Yes the other child was not respecting mine's right to play. And yes finding ways to share community properly can be tough. But starting the hitting? Play time is done! Period. They can walk away and find something else to do. They can ask me for my help to deal with the other child if they can't get through to them, and I WILL go toe-to-toe verbally with the other parent if their child is the problem. I will vigorously defend my child's rights always.

And, in the short term, if your child does the right thing and walks away - reward the heck out of them for it to drive the point home that they made the right choice.

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