I want it! You’re not my friend anymore!

I want it! You’re not my friend anymore!

Do these situations sound familiar?

At an in-service training I did for preschool teachers, I was asked a few questions about children fighting. These could come up at home or at school, so I wanted to share them with you.

Although these sample responses were designed for younger children, they actually apply to older children as well. That’s no surprise when you remember that the Language of Listening® Coaching Model applies to all ages and all situations.

There are infinite variations on these responses. I hope you will share your versions or your thoughts about these in the comments below.



Q: What do I do when a three-year-old just has to have the one book a younger child is holding, every time?!!

Age of Child(ren): girls 1, 3

Possible Adult Misconceptions/Hot Buttons: Grabbing, selfish, annoying, making the younger cry

Child’s Primary Need: Power


SWYS: “She’s got the book, and you want it. And that’s the only book you want! Somehow she always finds the best book!”


CAN DO: “Must be something you can do to get to read that book without taking it out of her hands.”


Accept child’s solution or make suggestion like:


CAN DO: “Hmmm. She’s too little to wait very well, and you can. Must be something you can do to wait…”


SWYS: “Look, your hands are waiting right now. You waited for 30 seconds already!”


STRENGTH: “That shows you have patience!”


Pointing out a STRENGTH helps meet children’s need for power and encourages them to show you more. If the 3YO turns to something else while she waits:


SWYS: “Oh, and now you’ve found something else to do while you wait. Staying busy helps.”


STRENGTH: “You figured that out. You know what works for you!”


If the child repeatedly can’t come up with a solution and often feels powerless, focus on her feelings:


SWYS: “Nothing seems to work. You feel like there’s nothing you can do.”


Stay with her feelings until the child begins to move toward a solution or toward some level of acceptance of the situation, then point that out as a success so she will have that STRENGTH to draw on the next time something like this occurs:


STRENGTH: “You found something you could do.” OR “That was a tough moment for you, and you handled it.”


Q: What do I do when three children want to sit right beside the same child at the table, and the one who gets left out yells, “You’re not my friend anymore!”? This seems to happen almost every day recently.

Age of Child(ren): pre-K girls 

Possible Adult Misconceptions/Hot Buttons: Hurt feelings, exclusion, insensitive, mean, manipulative

Child’s Primary Need: Power


SWYS: “Looks like three kids want to sit beside one, and there are only two chairs.”


CAN DO: “Must be something you can do that works for all of you. Hmmm.”


Child 3: (storming off and yelling to the seated child) “I never get to sit by you. You’re not my friend anymore!”


If the remaining children are okay with their seating arrangement, respond to the isolated child separately. If you can’t stop and support her at the moment, then tell her when you can (it has to be soon), and be prepared to listen to her as she moves through her anger and tears without trying to fix how she feels:


Child 3: (crying) “I never get to sit by her. They always leave me out. She doesn’t even care. There’s nothing I can do!”


SWYS: (to child 3) “You never get to sit by her. You feel left out and sad. It’s so frustrating to feel like there’s nothing you can do to get what you want. You’ve tried everything, even telling her she’s not your friend anymore. Hmmm. Well, that would be one way to feel okay. If she’s not your friend, then this wouldn’t bother you, but that doesn’t sound quite true. It sounds more like you really wish you could be her friend and always get to sit beside her, and you just don’t know what to do!”


Allow the child to cry as much as needed. Facilitate her sadness. When she feels heard and okay to feel what she feels, she will calm herself and either venture a solution or discover that she can handle disappointment. Then you can point out the STRENGTH:


STRENGTH: “You figured out something you can try next time.” OR “You calmed yourself down. Looks like you found a way to handle this big disappointment and get on with your day.”


It helps to keep in mind that when a child is repeatedly drawn to others who continually reject them, the pattern may be part of a larger personal growth challenge the child has set for themselves (possibly favoritism). You can use Language of Listening® to help the child overcome a challenge like this more quickly, at which point, finding friends who actually want to sit or play with them will become a much more attractive option for the child.


(If instead of one child storming off, all three children stay and argue about how to solve the problem, use mediation as described in the swing example below.)


Q: What do I do when one child won’t get off the swing and another child wants it?

Age of Child(ren): pre-K girl & boy

Possible Adult Misconceptions/Hot Buttons: “Hogging” the swing, selfish, controlling

Child’s Primary Need: Power


SWYS: (to child 1) “You want to swing, and he’s on it.”


CAN DO: “You can ask him when he will be done, and see what he says.”


Child 1: (to child 2 on the swing) “When will you be done?”


The simple act of turning over control of “when” to release the swing to the child on the swing will often be enough for him to share it. However, if the swinging child has an extremely high need for power as occurs when children are routinely forced to share before they are ready, it might go like this instead:


Child 2: “Never.”


Child 1: (looking distraught) “He said never!”


SWYS: (beginning mediation with child 1) “Looks like that is not okay with you. So you want to swing, and he wants to stay on it the whole time. How long can you wait?”


Child 1: “One second!”


SWYS: (to child 2 on the swing) “You want to swing the whole time, and she wants it in one second. Will that work for you?”


Child 2: “No. She can have it next year.”


SWYS: (to child 1) “He says next year. Can you wait that long?”


Child 1: (shakes head) “5 more swings.”


Child 2: “10.”


Child 1: “Okay.”


Usually the children count together at that point and child 2 turns the swing over freely.


As crazy as it seems, this is exactly what happens when children are heard and their need for power is met. Validating each child’s wants, regardless how extreme, allows both children to move toward agreement. You know they will get there the second child 2 in possession of the “thing” (swing, toy, you, etc.) takes the first step toward compromise, even if that step (“next year”) sounds ridiculous to you.


Treating both children’s suggestions as valid tells them that it’s okay to want what they want, so they no longer have to argue to prove it. Allowing child 2 to decide when to hand the swing over, meets his need for power so completely that it makes it easy for him to share. When that happens, point out the STRENGTH so he can draw on it next time:


STRENGTH: (to child 2) “You got down when you said you would and shared the swing. That was generous!”

When you demonstrate mediation and problem-solving skills like this a few times, the children begin using those tools themselves.


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