Giving children the opportunity to solve conflicts on their own allows them to come up with varied, authentic responses to conflict, all of which have real-world parallels and importance. What is a child learning when something is taken from them?
How to Mourn a Loss
Everyone experiences loss in their life. When a child loses something they want, cries, and is supported through those feelings by nearby adults, they learn how to deal with these powerful emotions without being overwhelmed. They learn that even when things don’t work out the way they wanted, they can find someone willing to listen. After a while, they will feel ready to move on. These are valuable recovery skills that many adults have not mastered!
How to Let Go
While our society definitely values persistence, a healthy balance in life also requires knowing when to give up. Sometimes a battle really isn’t worth the effort, and that’s just fine. Knowing when to call it quits is something to be proud of. Giving up on one thing usually means opening the door to something else, so giving up can be a very powerful tool in the right situation.
How to Learn from Someone Else’s Ideas
Sometimes children react to loss with curiosity instead of distress.
Here is an example from my nanny work with toddler Z...
Z saw another child at the park picking up his toy airplane.
"Mine!" Z reached after the plane. The other child moved away, and Z came to sit in my lap to cry. We talked about what had happened. “They picked up the airplane we brought. You didn’t like that.”
While he settled, he watched as the other child took the plane to the top of the slide.
“Doing?” Z asked. The other child sent the plane down the slide, and it skidded down towards us at top speed. Z was delighted and ran to give the plane back to the other child, saying, “Fly! Again!” Then they practiced sending the plane and a toy car down the slide together.
Z was building the understanding that another child may have an interesting idea about using a toy. This is related to developing theory of mind, the ability to understand that other people think differently than you do.
How to Prepare for Next Time
A child that experiences loss feels motivation to develop new strategies for interacting with children. They learn there are many options for solving a conflict, like trading one toy for another, moving away from the other child, or just hanging on tightly. Each one of these strategies is a useful tool for solving conflicts all throughout life.
If we give children opportunities to solve conflicts with minimal guidance (we always ensure safety and can narrate struggle), some of the time toys will get taken. It can be difficult for us adults to see this, but it helps to keep in mind that there is something to be learned even in those difficult moments. By providing children with these opportunities, we help them become resilient, empathetic, and flexible.