Children and Conflict Resolution

Conflict isn’t just for adults.  Children of all ages experience conflict and it’s unpleasant effects.  This post is designed to provide educators with additional resources and information pertaining to helping children in their care build their conflict resolution skills.

What is “conflict resolution?

  • “Conflict resolution is a way for two or more parties to find a peaceful solution to a disagreement among them” (source: Kansas University Community Toolbox).

 Don’t kids inherently know how to solve their conflicts?

  • Children need to be taught conflict resolution skills. All teachers have witnessed a young child steal a toy from another, only to see the child who had their toy stolen punch the child who stole the toy.  This depiction simply displays that both children didn’t have the skills necessary to solve their conflict rather than let it devolve into violence and theft. It is the job of educators and family members to teach children how to handle conflict effectively, and to resolve it efficiently.

How should teachers react when they notice conflict between two or more children?

  • Teachers should not seek to solve the issue for the children.  They should recognize that it is a valuable learning opportunity that shouldn’t be squandered by adults.
  • Teachers should provide questions that force the children to think about the other party’s feelings (example: How do you think it makes John feel when you take his ball?).
  • Encourage the children to listen to the other party’s thoughts and feelings.
  • Serve as a mediator.
  • Avoid taking the sides.  Remember, you are there to mediate the resolution, not create a solution yourself.

The Four C’s of Conflict Resolution for Kids:

  • Cooperation: For children to resolve conflicts effectively, they must cooperate with each other. They need to understand each other’s thoughts, needs, and perspectives.  Without having this understanding they can’t relate, and are focused only on themselves. Resolution to conflict takes teamwork. Children need to work together to craft solutions.
  • Communication:  Children struggle with communication, especially the younger they are. Children struggle to verbalize their feelings, because they lack the vocabulary to do so. Teachers can help to improve child communication skills by helping them establish an emotional vocabulary, which will help them further their ability to make sense of their emotions and verbalize them. Check out what Michigan State University has published on this topic!
  • Compromise: Without compromise, no conflict will remain solved.  Compromise entails each child giving a little to get a little.  Neither party will be fully happy with the result, but its better to be happy with some of it than none of it. Teachers can help promote compromise by asking questions that force the children to think about what they are willing to give up to come up with a solution in which they are both happy.  As adults, we never want to give them the answers, but rather simply provide questions and comments that force them to think on a deeper level.
  • Calmness: No solution will be reached if both parties of children do not remain calm.  If either party is too emotional or upset, they are unlikely going to be able to communicate their feelings appropriately, and cooperate to come up with a compromise.  Teachers can help children remain calm by providing a “cooling down” period for both parties when conflict arises. Everyone thinks more clearly after having a minute or two to calm themselves and self-examine their own thoughts and feelings pertaining to the conflict.

Do conflicts between two children always produce a winner and a loser?

  • Conflicts should not produce a winner and a loser, but instead two winners.  According to Kids Matter, an organization specializes in child mental health, an acceptable solution that is a “win-win” for both parties is only possible if there is compromise (both parties get a “win”). A “win-lose” solution is the result if one side simply gives in, threatens the other, avoids confrontation, or behaves in a way that somehow hinders the resolution process. Conflict resolution that incorporates the four C’s produce “win-win” solutions.

Additional Resources:

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