Why Teach Conflict Resolution?
When I first became a teacher, I felt overwhelmed when my students were in conflict. I thought I needed to help them resolve the issue peacefully, so I would sit with them, intervene, and monitor them. The problem with this approach was, I was crippling them from learning their own conflict resolution skills. They began to rely completely on me to help solve their problems, and I therefore robbed them of their independence.
The longer I taught, the more I realized that it was my duty to explicitly teach and model conflict resolution skills to my students, so they would be empowered with the tools to manage conflict on their own. Once I did this, the classroom culture changed dramatically, and I was amazed to see how capable children were of identifying their feelings, self regulating, and arriving at amicable solutions. Children can learn these same skills at home to start practicing healthy conflict management skills with their siblings and parents.
Explicitly Teach and Model Conflict Resolution Skills
Research shows, children learn attitudes and beliefs through reinforcement and observation of others’ behaviors. Children are most likely to imitate models who are warm and nurturing, high in social status, and similar to themselves. Parents and older siblings who are viewed as loving, competent, and powerful are especially influential role models for children. For this reason, it is crucial that parents and older siblings model healthy and effective conflict resolution skills.
Children also learn about conflict management through watching the way their parents engage in conflict with each other. Studies show that parental conflict (characterized by anger, hostility, and aggression) threatens children’s sense of security. This leads to worry about the stability of the family. When parents argue constructively (characterized by affection, problem-solving strategies, and compromise), children feel a sense of security about the family. When we model for children how to resolve conflict, they bring these skills into their own relationships.
When Should Children Solve Conflict On Their Own?
When children solve conflict on their own, they feel empowered and independent. Most conflicts amongst children can be solved without adult intervention. However, when children are in danger or are physically hurt, then adults must intervene to ensure everyone is safe. You might also find that children become so heated with emotions, they need assistance to take a break, calm down, and come up with solutions to resolve the conflict. If you must intervene, know that you can still walk the children involved through healthy steps to conflict resolution, so they still have the opportunity to learn and practice.
While we suggest first giving the children involved an opportunity to solve a problem on their own, we know that sometimes parent-given consequences are necessary. We recommend natural consequences. Natural consequences are tied to the child’s behavior, rather than being a random consequence with no connection to the behavior.
Here are some natural consequences we recommend:
- “If you break it, fix it” – For example, Jonathan knocks over Cody’s lego creation, so Jonathan can help Cody put it back together.
- “If you hurt someone, help make it better” – If Cindy pushes Marcus to the ground so he falls and scrapes his knee, Cindy must help Marcus clean the scrape and put a bandaid on it.
- Loss of a privilege: If a child cannot play kindly, the child is not allowed to continue playing the game.
Cooling Down and Self-Regulation
Before children are ready to resolve a conflict, they must first take time to cool down and self-regulate. We can teach children about the brain to help them understand why this is important. When we become upset, two parts of the brain are majorly involved.
The amygdala is in charge of our emotional reactions. The prefrontal cortex is in charge of our decision-making skills and ability to think logically. When we become upset, we first react with our amygdalas. Our brains need time to settle down before our prefrontal cortex can kick in! Once we have calmed down our firing amygdalas, we are ready to solve a conflict calmly and efficiently with a fully functioning prefrontal cortex.
How Can a Child Cool Down?
There are many ways children can cool down. We recommend a child takes a break from the other child involved when a conflict arises. The children can then take a few moments to check in with their feelings and practice self-regulation skills, such as deep breathing, squeezing a stress ball, running in place, drawing, or journaling. Once they feel calm, they are ready to return to each other to share feelings and find solutions. We also suggest children set a timer for how long they need to cool down.
When the children come back together to talk, each child should have the opportunity to share feelings. We suggest using I-Statements to express feelings. An I-Statement focuses on your own feelings, rather than jumping to blame how someone else wronged you.
An I-Statement might sound like this: “I felt _______ when you ________. I wish you would please __________.”
Coming up with a Solution Together
After the children have expressed their feelings, they are ready to come up with solutions. We recommend having a poster up in your home with ideas for how to solve conflicts. This is included in our Conflict Resolution product, or you can make your own as a family.
This Takes Practice!
Remember that this is not a topic you can teach just one time and then expect your children to be experts! Children need consistent practice in this skill, and they will likely need your support in the beginning. When you explicitly teach, model, and guide children in these steps, you help solidify the steps as a habit. The more practice children get, the more able they will be to use these skills independently!
We’re Here to Help with Our Conflict Resolution Product!
In our Conflict Resolution product, we will provide hands-on activity pages, posters, and role play cards to help you teach your children about conflict resolution. You can hang the posters in your home as a reference for kids when they are in the midst of resolving conflict. This product is coming soon in January 2020. Stay tuned by signing up for our email newsletter!
Recommended Picture Books on Conflict and Self-Regulation:
Zach Gets Frustrated by William Mulcahy
Enemy Pie by Derek Munson
Your Fantastic, Elastic Brain by JoAnn Deak
It Wasn’t Me! By Oliver Jeffers
When I Feel Angry by Cornelia Maude Spelman
Borba, Michele. Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-about-me World. First Edition. New York: Touchstone, 2016.
Koss, Kalsea J, et al. “Understanding Children’s Emotional Processes and Behavioral Strategies in the Context of Marital Conflict.” Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3065512/.
Whiteman, Shawn D, et al. “Theoretical Perspectives on Sibling Relationships.” Journal of Family Theory & Review, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 June 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3127252/.