As is true with any age group, one-year olds tend to have conflicts in inter-personal interactions. In fact, they may actually have more issues than other age groups because their verbal communication is so limited. It is essential for parents and other caregivers to be well equipped in how to help solve these conflicts in a speedy and instructive way.
The age range from 12-24 months is a very diverse one in many ways. Some one-year olds will have very few words and other will be quite verbal. Some may be well socialized and others completely unused to sharing or having any other interactions with peers. This age requires careful supervision as well as modeling simple ways for solving conflicts between one-year olds.
First of all, the adult in these situations should always keep careful watch over the children playing together. Very young children can be unpredictable in the way they interact with others, and biting, hitting, or grabbing can occur. Sometimes an adult will have time to explain what they are doing, such as “It looks like you really want the block that Becky has. Becky, do you think we could play with the block for a minute?” Even if the children are not at this point in their verbal skills, the constant modeling from adults can help them to pick up this type of give and take, and it can be surprising how early they can start to make these same types of negations on their own.
Empathy is something that must be taught, and does not fully develop in children until much later. Conflicts are actually very good opportunities to help children begin to learn empathy. Although it may at first seem like a losing battle, explaining to young children how someone else feels when they are being yelled at, hit, or pushed, sets the stage for a strong foundation of empathy. Other ways to help your child develop empathy is to talk about the feelings of characters in books, ask your child how they think a child is feeling in a picture or asking your child to show you a certain emotion (ie. “What is you sad face? What is your happy face?”). Identifying emotions in others and being able to relate them to our own emotions is the foundation of empathy. Although this skills does not typically develop in children until their later preschool years, we can start to point out simple emotions to one year olds.
Another tool that can be very useful in disagreements between children is redirection. Toddlers tend to have very short attention spans, and often respond favorably to new stimuli. In a conflict situation, this could mean simply bringing out a new toy if there is an argument over an existing toy. Removing the object that they are fighting over can also help if bringing out a new one doesn’t do the trick. One-year olds don’t tend to share well so having duplicates of favorite toys is a good idea.
Physically moving children is another practical way to help them solve conflicts. At this age, not all children are fully mobile, and they may feel somewhat trapped. Also, since their attention span is so short, simply moving them might be enough to stop the conflict and bring their attention to something else. Most importantly, remember that conflicts at this age happen because toddlers are very much still in an egotistical state of mind. One year olds need support, understanding and love more than anything else. They are trying to grow and participate in the world around them, and often need help. By keeping ourselves calm when children make mistakes, we can help them learn faster what the better choice to make is.