Dealing with Rivalry among Children in Child Care

Boy pouting

Constant bickering and fighting can turn an otherwise peaceful child care program into a battleground filled with yelling and shoving. Some conflict among children is to be expected. Children seek the attention of their child care providers, whose time and energy are limited. Most young children have a hard time seeing other people’s point of view, and so they think their needs are the most important. If one child has to wait when a child care provider is busy with another, the child waiting may feel resentment or accuse the child care provider of “not being fair.”

What’s Happening with Rivalry in Child Care?

A certain amount of resentment, rivalry, and even some serious fighting is bound to occur in a child care setting. When children are in close contact with one another, their personalities will not mix perfectly all the time. While it may be difficult to accept that rivalry is normal among children, caregivers should acknowledge it as part of children’s total growth and development.

There are several common reasons why children in child care may show rivalry, or begin bickering or arguing.

  • Teasing. Sometimes children’s disagreements cause teasing, or teasing leads to conflicts. Nicknames can ignite aggravation. The never-ending “she called me” or “but she called me ___ first” is a familiar refrain that tries the patience of many child care providers.
  • Jealousy. Jealousy can be at the root of much rivalry in a child care setting. One child may envy another because of what the other child received or was permitted to do. Children may handle jealousy through complaining, whining, or arguing.
  • Competition. In a child care setting, a certain amount of competition occurs naturally. No matter how much a child care provider dislikes it, the race to be “the best” will begin early in a child’s life. The competition will show itself at the most unlikely times. “I finished my lunch first” or “I got in line before you did” are just two variations of the thousands of versions of the “I’m better than you” theme song of children.
  • Social skills. Rivalry is part of growing up, especially as children move into the elementary years. Young children are still developing social skills, and navigating through small conflicts gives children opportunities to learn how to get along with others.

Tips for Child Care Providers to Deal with Children’s Rivalry

Although children’s rivalry can be frustrating, child care providers can reduce the bickering and arguing. Here are some simple ideas for the child care setting that may reduce rivalry among children:

  • Set aside time to be alone with each child. If children have some one-on-one time with the child care provider, they are less likely to feel jealous when that provider is working with other children.
  • Recognize that each child is unique. Different children respond positively to different activities, guidance strategies, and communication styles. It is the child care provider’s responsibility to get to know each child well and to build on that child’s strengths. Be sure to point out those strengths to each child regularly.
  • Be positive. Talk about each child’s strengths, rather than focusing on challenges. Avoid comparing children’s abilities – one child always ends up appearing “better” than the other, and these comparisons will only fuel rivalry and competition.
  • Emphasize cooperation. Cut down on the amount of adult-initiated competition, especially with children under age 6. Young children are not naturally competitive but may become more competitive if child care providers model competition. Think of ways to make competitive games more cooperative, and especially find ways to avoid having some children be “out.”
  • Be realistic about sharing. Many young children are not good at sharing their toys and do not understand why sharing is important. Encourage and model sharing, and give positive feedback to children when they share.
  • Use children’s literature. Read books about handling conflict and managing rivalry, and talk with children about how the characters learned to get along.

For more information

To learn more about helping children in child care get along, check out the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles:

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