5 Finger Formula for Conflict Management

July 22nd, 2013

by Katrina Brooke

Conflicts happen between children all of the time.  Whether it is territorial, over a toy or just because, it is our job as adults to help them learn to resolve their issues and negotiate a solution.  In the long run, making a child say they are “sorry” will not help them in future conflicts.  In our classrooms, teachers often use the “Five Finger Formula”.  It is displayed on the wall in the classroom as a reminder that this method takes patience and pays off.  With parents playing such a large role as teachers themselves, we want to share this successful formula as another parenting tool.


The first thing you should know about resolving conflicts is that children model the behavior of adults.  If they see you flying off the handle or acting out on your anger, they will most likely mock these actions.  Next time you find yourself feeling angry or upset, try taking in deep breaths or flipping through a magazine.  Children are sponges and they want to grow up to be just like mom and dad.

Your role in this process is that of a mediator.  It’s important that you do not choose sides between the children and try to let them resolve things on their own as much as possible, even if one child was wrong.  Depending on the age of the children involved, you may not need to say much.  Younger children will need help with words to explain how they feel, while older children will just need you to guide them through the process.  Make sure to let each child express themselves without suggestions before you intervene.  This is where patience is important.


Step 1: THUMB

This is where if needed, everyone (including the adult) needs to calm down.  If a child is really upset, this might take time, but the process will not work until everyone is relaxed.  Each child may react differently to certain methods so here are some ideas to try:

–          Take 5 deep breaths

–          Draw a picture of how you’re feeling or something in the room

–          Use movement.  Take a quick walk down the hallway or do 10 jumping jacks

–          Stress ball.  Squeeze this 10 times in each hand.

–          Sculpt.  Use play-doh or clay to sculpt a figure or animal.



Discuss and come to an agreement about what the problem is.  Make sure each child has their “time” without anyone interrupting to explain (in their words) what happened.  If there was hitting or fighting, briefly talk about how that will NOT work and focus more on what they could have done instead.  Do not harp on what they did wrong, concentrate more on a corrective behavior.  The only time the adult should be interjecting is to stop any interruption of turns, to help the children with their words if they are struggling and to invoke an agreement of the problem. (ex: “So Amelia, you’re upset because you wanted to use that toy and Danny wouldn’t give it to you.  Danny, you’re upset because you were not finished playing with the toy when Amelia took it from you.  Does that sound right to both of you?”)



Brainstorm to come up with a solution.  The adult should act in guiding the children to the solution, but let them negotiate themselves.  Phrases like: “How do you think we can solve this problem?”  and “What do you think we should do now?” should be asked to each child.



Agree on a Solution.  “Would that work for both of you?” is a good way to stay neutral when a child gives an answer that is obviously just going to benefit only them , while giving the other child the chance to speak up.  It is important that if the children agree on a solution, even if you do not agree that it is fair, you let them move forward with their plan because they are the ones that came to a solution.  You never know what the outcome will be and should not impose one on the children, they need to learn to negotiate for themselves.



Try out the solution.  Watch as the children put their solution into action.  You will want to positively reinforce their efforts and follow-up.  This is also the moment when you may need to have a guidance talk with one of the children separately or with both of them together.  Guidance talks should always happen at the end of the formula to ensure the focus is on how to resolve and negotiate a problem.  (Ex:  Before Amelia continues to play after Danny has walked away, “Amelia when I saw you take the toy from Danny it made me sad. What else could you have done instead of pulling it away from him?”)  This is where you would guide the child so that their behavior next time may be different, avoiding conflict in the first place.  Other statements you may want to use: “Do you think you can still play together?” and “How could you make him feel better?”  might also be asked.

Punishing a child for having a conflict and then forging a false apology does not work.  It will not create lasting learning experiences and also does not help the child resolve their issues with the other child. This will only put it off for the time being.


Contributing research from: http://www.naeyc.org/files/yc/file/200603/GuidanceBTJ.pdf


– See more at: http://parentsblog.childcarenetwork.net/5-finger-formula-for-conflict-management-with-children/#sthash.cSAW4D23.dpuf

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