Get the facts
If you come upon two young children in the middle of a conflict, ask them both to tell you what happened (the apparent victim may have initiated the problem). Take time to listen to each child, then repeat back to them what you’ve heard— for example, “So Katie took your truck before you were done with it and pushed it under the bed where you can’t get it.”
“It’s helpful not to be punitive or to introduce shame,” says Debra Borys, PhD, a Los Angeles–based clinical psychologist. Toddlers will sometimes try out behavior, such as grabbing a child’s toy, just to see what happens. Borys suggests making an observational comment, such as “I see you both have really strong feelings about playing with that toy first.”
Try to label the feelings without assigning blame. The idea, says Borys, is to help children learn to calm themselves and solve interpersonal problems through discussion and empathy. You want to help toddlers recognize these social cues that indicate they’ve caused harm, she adds. “Toddlers are fairly new to the planet,” says Wilkin.
“They don’t always understand cause and effect. You want children to learn what actions caused someone to be hurt or upset, so they learn to stop themselves from doing those actions in the future.” Keep in mind that empathy and self-restraint are two huge skills for a toddler to master, so don’t expect them to be learned after the first (or 101st) time there’s a conflict.