Creating a life of harmony one choice at a time.

3 Steps that Transform Sibling Conflict into Sibling Camaraderie

Help kids (young and old) resolve minor disputes over toys and space without playing judge or jury. Read More


Love this! So, what if none of the children has ideas on how to solve the problem? I feel like this then goes back to the adult intervening and suggesting fair options. Or, is it, once they have a chance to voice and be heard, the probability of accepting an option suggested by the parent is increased? Or, that if they continue not to have ideas, it means that they need a few more go-rounds of hear and being heard?

When there are "no ideas" for solving the issue

Thanks for your questions and your ideas. It sounds like you really value the part of the method which gives kids choice and empowers them to solve their own conflicts. I do too! :) Borrowing from the founder, Dominic Barter, I would say that it is not an "absolute" thing but that the more choice and voice they have in the process, the more restorative it will be. So, I try to maximize choice and voice within whatever else is happening "live".

In terms of specifics, in my experience, there are two situations in which we hit a wall during the "idea" stage. One - to which you refer - is that there are still some lingering feelings or thoughts that need to be expressed. So, if no one has any ideas, I say "Ok, is there anything else one of you wants the other person to know? Any feelings you still have about what happened?" and then the other child reflects (etc) and then we go back to Action Plan. Another way to approach this is to ask if anyone has anything they want to ask or request of the other child that would help resolve the issue. My older son usually asks for an apology at this stage (to which I would ask the other child if that works for them, etc) and which usually gets things rolling.

The other block is when the "solution" is not within the situation but "environmental" - like one or more parties needs a snack or nap or a complete change of activities. In those cases, if that is my guess, I share my guess with them and ask whether they would be willing to come back to the ideas after a snack. So, essentially, I am giving an idea but not about how to solve the issue at hand but about how to make their own problem solving more effective. Typically, they grumble but agree to wait until after snack. Of course, once they have the snack, they don't usually care about the issue at hand any more. Same thing with change of scenery. I would share my guess and then ask if anyone has any ideas for what kind of "change" might help solve the issue.

I am excited to have other parents out there try this out, experiment, and report back so we can all learn from each other!

I am totally going to go out

I am totally going to go out and buy this book. Your writings make me want to be a better person.

which book?


I am so pleased that we can pass inspiration back and forth like this. I am also curious - which book? The Marshall Rosenberg Non Violent Communication one or a different one?

My bad. I thought when you

My bad. I thought when you linked to the micro circles in the first paragraphs, it was going to take me to an amazon link where there was a book about it. But I was wrong!! :) btw, I posted on my facebook and have mom friends saying they will try this. Will keep you updated on the outcomes!


Great! I am looking forward to the feedback and mutual learning!

Wouldn't it be great if

Wouldn't it be great if governments used the micro-circle method to solve conflicts instead of having going back and forward for years on the same issues?

Governments Doing Circles

I absolutely LOVE this image and vision!

To share a bit of hope, in Brazil, where the full Circle model was created, it is now being regularly used in the criminal justice system, either along side "traditional justice" procedures or instead of them. Something to look forward to in the U.S.?

I became tearful at the point

I became tearful at the point when Abe gave half of his legos to Rachel. How simple and beautiful. The magic of being heard and not coerced. Aaaaah.

Non coercion

I love the way you captured the heart of it by pointing out the power and magic in non-coercion.

Thank you for bringing that out for me. I believe so much in non violent parenting and have struggled so much with the "sharing power" and non coercion aspects of it. Somehow, in focusing on the ease and wonder of not doing the work for them and the satisfaction they seem to feel in coming up with their own solutions, I did not notice that the micro-circles are doing what I've been wanting - the non-coercion thing!

Thank you for sharing!

Name change

"Kaleb" and "Abe" - the names in the original post - were names I gave to cover the identity of our kids' good friends, Zach and Isaiah. As of October 9, I have edited the post to include their real names - at encouragement from their parents.

Sounds really cool - will try it

Thanks so much Elaine. I really like the simplicity. Will definitely pass this on to others, and try myself, as the occasion allows.

Simplicity and Ease

Thank you Jane.

I very much resonate with the simplicity and ease in this process.

There are times when the conflict at hand is deeper and more painful than a simple dispute - when symbolic meaning and deeply hurt feelings are involved. By having a simple & easy method for addressing small "tiffs" I am able to have life and energy left over to be more empathically present for those more painful times.

So, this actually contributes to my own self-care as well as that of the kids.

I would love to hear how it goes if and when you do try it.

Practical Compassion

Thank you for adapting the use of Restorative Circles and the naming of them as "micro-circles". I love the image and it resonates with my experience that sharing power, choice and control builds harmony and cooperation and creativity! I am forwarding this to my dear friend who has been struggling with her own young children and wanting more harmony and peace in the home while not controlling and micro-managing everything! I look forward to reading more people's experiences with micro-circles within their families.

Here is to Micro-Circles over Micro-Management!

Thank you for the warm and supportive feedback. I love your juxtaposition of micro-circles vs. micro-management. I hear the caring and concern you have for your friend and for other families who want to hold their children's needs with respect while building more peaceful homes (and communities!)


I've been a Mediator for about 7-8 years now, and this is a large part of what I do with adults--and it works probably just as well as it does with children.

The key to so many disputes just seems to be that folks (of whatever age) just get so many emotions all jumbled in with the "objective facts" of the dispute that the frustrations and fears just cause escalation and an inability to see any solutions. Giving folks the physical space, a referee, and the chance to be heard and understood seems to go a long way towards solving the problem. It just de-escalates the emotional stress, and things no longer seem so awful, and the problem "magically" becomes solvable.

Re: Mediation

Thank you, Mike, for sharing that in your experience this has worked with adults in mediation (where emotions can run pretty high, I'm guessing).

One thing I have noticed is that - at least when I use the minimalist approach described here - it is not as effective when the conflict is "painful" (by which I mean the issue has symbolic value). In other words, when a lego is not just a lego but about whether you love me or not.

In my experience, when the conflict has more of that deeper symbolic value, it often needs a bit more of a container (like the full Restorative Circles model, which takes closer to 1.5 hours and has three distinct phases) - or additional skills (which I am guessing you sometimes have to pull out in your work).

In either case, I am intrigued by your comment and will look for an opportunity to try it with some adults who seem to be having a simple "tiff."


Thanks for bringing this simple approach to the mainstream! I only have one kid, he is now 16, and we use a similar process to work out issues between us-- and have for several years. What I love about this process is: 1. It's simple., 2. Nobody has to be bad or wrong, and 3. We feel empowered solving our problems collaboratively.

Loving the Variety!

Thank you Terry.

I would love to hear about how that works. My partner and I use a process I call "Restorative Conversations" in which we take turns reflecting our understanding of what the other wants us to know. However, I have not been able to do this "live" in the middle of a dispute and had assumed that it was because we lacked a facilitator.

I am curious to know how you "cue" each other to begin the process when you are both upset. Or do you do it AFTER an argument (by which I mean Marshall Rosenberg's definition of an argument: two people each waiting for the other to start listening)?

3 Steps that Transform Sibling Conflict into Sibling Camaraderie

I have been looking for ideas for solving conflicts between my two boys, just turned one and almost five, and I think this has real promise. My question is, how does it work when one child is pre-verbal? Should I try to interpret what I think the little one would say if he could, and what I think would work for him? Our problem is things like the older one wanting to play with toys in our common spaces that the little one will knock down, break, eat, etc. Separating the boys is not working because I need to be with the little one to supervise, and the older one does not want to play alone.

Question about how it might work with one pre-verbal child

Hi Darcie,

Thanks for your question. To be honest, I am not sure how this would work with one pre-verbal child. When our 3 yr old was pre-verbal, we did a quick separation with a bit of empathy-guessing for each child (e.g., little one - did you enjoy how that sounded? did that make a fun sound when it fell down?; bigger one - are you frustrated because you worked hard on that tower and now it's broken?) - kind of similar to what's described in the book "Siblings Without Rivalry".

But I really like - and I am intrigued - by the idea you offer about taking the side of the little one in a micro-circle. It would require for the bigger one to trust you, I'm guessing - and if he did, I think it can really work! I'd be really interested to hear back how it goes if you try it!

It works!

I tried this technique this morning with my two (8y and 4y) and it worked! The issue wasn't getting out of control, but it was first thing in the morning, and I wasn't ready for arguing just yet. It kind of went like this:

4y - I want to watch Bolt.

8y - No! We watched that all day yesterday. I don't want to see it again.

4y - I want to watch Bolt!!

ME - Okay, 4y, what do you want 8y to know?

4y - I want to watch Bolt.

ME - 8y, do you understand what 4y is saying?

8y - Yes, but -

ME - Hold on a sec. 4y, is that all you want 8y to know?

4y - Yes. I want to watch Bolt.

ME - 8y, what would you like 4y to know?

8y - I don't want to watch Bolt again. We watched it four times yesterday. I want to watch something else.

ME - 4y, do you hear what 8y is saying?

4y - Yes.

ME - 8y, is there anything else you want to tell 4y?

8y - No.

ME - Okay, so you both want to watch different things. Any ideas on what we can do next?

4y - Watch Bolt.

8y - How about we watch what I want first, and then we watch Bolt?

4y - Okay.

Wow. I sipped my tea, and they went away downstairs to watch something else. And that's exactly what they did, 8y's pick first, then Bolt.

They've been happily spending time together *all day* (so far) without a shriek or crying or anything.

Thank you so much for writing this article!

Re: It works!

I am absolutely delighted this worked for you! Yeah!

Did it work with you simply asking "Do you hear what other said?" or did you ask them to reflect back but you just didn't want to type it all here? Just curious if just bringing their attention to listening did the trick or it was important to have them actually reflect back what they heard?

Re: It works!

Actually, I forgot about reflecting! After I posted my comment, I re-read the article and saw that I missed that step Next time I will be sure to include it, though, as in my own experience reflecting brings the "receiver" to a deeper understanding of the "giver's" issue. There's something about saying the other person's comment out loud that makes their feelings easier to understand.

More Words about How It Worked

Mom wanted toys and clothing picked up and put away.
8 year old and 5 year old boys wanted to keep playing.
Each one was heard. I asked if anyone had ideas and waited. No one had any ideas.
Suddenly I said "I've got an idea. Let's burn the house down. .and you could play instead of pick up stuff because there would be nothing to pick up!"
The 5 year old (I don't think he was sure if I was serious or not) said "But then we wouldn't have any place to live!"
"Oh,yes that's right. Not really a workable idea." I replied. This stimulated the 8 year old to suggest that we flood the house and the toys and clothes would float out the front door.
We were imagining solutions now, and they thought of becoming ninja robbers, putting on costumes and stealing all the stuff (mom agreed if the stolen items ended up put away where they belonged.
Mom and I played cards in a Very Quiet House while the ninja robbers silently did the job. Win-win.

In another scenario, when I asked the 5 year old to repeat what he'd heard his brother say, he was not willing (able?) and chose to jump up and say "I'm just going to go pick my own strawberries." He ran outside to do so. I asked the 8 y.o. if he was ok with that? Yes.
Later mom told me that when 5 y.o. doesn't know how to say the words, even though he has understood them, he leaves.
I asked the older brother later if he thought that the younger brother had heard him at that point and he said "Yes." Learning for next thime: I could have checked with him to see if he thought that he had been heard instead of asking the younger one to actually say the words.
Learning! :-)

Re: More Words


I love this example and the creativity that the 3 of you were able to generate - and the playfulness that became awake between you and your two little ninjas! :)

And yes, I agree that sometimes it is intimidating to try to reflect the words, especially when someone uses a LOT of words. If that happens, I sometimes encourage my kids to not say back the whole thing but just say the "main thing you heard".

However, I see in your example and (maybe?) in the example from Amanda that sometimes asking one child whether he/she FEELS heard may be enough. I guess that makes sense since that's the main point!

Thanks for sharing!

Another example of it

Another example of it working! During one of their last play dates, my daughter's friend, S, came up to me and told me that my daughter, C, was repeatedly clicking the "send" button on her walkie-talkie, which made a very loud static noise and was hurting S's ears. And that despite S asking my daughter repeatedly to stop, C persisted in doing this.

We did the whole go-round, which eventually resulted in the girls deciding to put the walkie talkies away for a bit--that was actually my suggestion that was initially vetoed by both girls but later re-suggested by S.

It was very interesting to me to see that after this interaction, they actually did start playing together much more cooperatively and constructively. In the past when they started knocking heads, I tended to rely on separation (why dont you two just take a break for a bit--does one of you want to color here and the other there?).

The other thing was that during the heard/being heard part, my daughter started crying from guilt. I kinda suspected she might, so when S started speaking, I moved over so that I was holding her on my lap while she listened/reflected. I think I probably could have done a better job initially setting up the safe space (I was so excited to get a chance to try this I kinda pounced on it with little fanfare), but I'm wondering what you might recommend to prevent this next time, or maybe her reaction was OK. I dont want her to feel shamed by this process, but at the same time, feeling guilt because you recognize you've done something to hurt another isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Re: Crying from Guilt

Thanks for sharing Cynthia. I am so happy that it's working for other people.

In terms of the crying, overall, I resonate with what you are saying: tears of empathy or compassion for another person after we realize how we have impacted them are very healthy while tears of "shame" may indicate that the process is not MUTUALLY restorative yet (which is not ideal, as we don't want this to be punitive but restorative for both parties.)

One thought I have in how to address this is to remember that all non-verbal communications (tears, silence, arm crossing) are still communications. So, one idea is to ask the child who is NOT crying to reflect what they hear - so the child who is crying (let's call her Jessica) gets heard in the way she wishes to be heard. So, when it's Jessica's turn, instead of asking her if she has anything else to say, we act as if she IS saying something (with her tears).

So, the facilitator may say to the other child: "Hmmm... I see Jessica is crying a little. What do you think she wants you to know?" and then the other child makes a guess ("She feels bad about hurting my feelings?") and you say to Jessica "Jess, is that what you want Kelly to know?") and she can nod or shake her head no and you go from there.

This way, we don't have to guess what the child's tears represent and also the child's tears are acknowledged as a communication (which they are) - not as a "side effect." And hopefully, through the process of having her feelings of sadness (or shame) reflected and maybe hearing some reassurance from the other child ("It's ok, I am not mad any more") the circle becomes more mutually restorative and not just restorative for one child.

I am guessing there are other valuable ways of handling this instead and I am open to ideas.

Loving the simplicity

Thank you for this inspirational article.

Reading the two specific and clear success stories allows me to imagine how I might use the tools in my own particular situations.

And I also just LOVE how the parent doesn't have to be in a good space (centered, empathetic, etc.) in order to use the micro-circle method.

It seems to me that everyone becomes empowered using the method you describe. (And frazzled mom gets her freedom!)

I can also imagine that additional skills (such as Nonviolent Communication) would be helpful in situations where the micro-circle just doesn't go far enough.

But I am definitely going to try a micro-circle the next time I am driving my two children in the car and they can't agree what station to tune the radio to!

Re: Loving the simplicity (yes, every bit helps)

Yes Holly! I agree on all fronts.

I also love that I can do this when I am not at my best and even with other kids (not my own).

At the same time, as I think you might be saying, the micro circle is one tool of many. Personally, I have found parenting to be an incredibly humbling journey and I have had to bring every skill and piece of wisdom to it.

And yes, non violent communication (NVC) has completely transformed the way we relate to our children (especially the older one!) and to each other (as a couple). It's also transformed my work relationships and my relationship with myself. But I digress.

So yes - there are definitely times when the micro circles just don't work or are not what we all need. Then I may ask the older one to do an empathy worksheet (see article on "Speaking While Upset") or I may separate the kids into different rooms and provide NVC style empathy to the one who is most upset (this is when feelings seem REALLY hurt).

Or I may be the one who needs the empathy and separation :) (in which case I may be lucky enough to receive it from hubby or not...)

Having said all that, the micro circles have certainly brought a level of ease and empowerment to our family that I appreciate many times a week.

And yesterday, at dinner, when we did our usual round of "appreciations" my 3 yr old thanked me for "the circle" I did earlier that afternoon - even though I had thought it was one of the more lengthy and frustrating ones we had ever done.

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Elaine Shpungin, Ph.D., is the director of the University of Illinois Psychological Services Center.


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