It’s tempting to want to solve conflicts for kids as soon as we see it — “Lena, I saw you take Josie’s ball. Give it back and say you’re sorry.”
But giving kids the tools to resolve conflicts on their own instills a sense of responsibility, and teaches them skills to be used in all kinds of social situations. When children know how to handle a situation responsibly, they won’t see conflict as someone else’s problem.
But conflict resolution takes practice, and adults can do a lot to develop the skill in kids. Try these four conflict resolution techniques:
Rock Paper Scissors
Was that four square ball in or out? Who was first in line? Who gets to use the red marker first? These conflicts occur countless times in elementary schools. Rather than let small conflicts escalate or take valuable time to solve, teach students to play a quick game of Rock Paper Scissors. Check out this video for a refresher on how to play:
“He did it!” Children can want to point fingers when a problem arises, but adults know it often takes two to start a conflict. Teaching children to recognize emotions, both in themselves and others, helps. I-statements like “I feel ___ when you ___,” allow children to identify their emotion instead of blaming others. Before discussing solutions, help kids talk through the disagreement using I-statements. Over time, kids will pick up the habit without adults prompting.
A peace path is a step-by-step guide for students to follow when resolving conflicts. The path may lead students to finish statements like: “I imagine [Janie] felt ___ when ___ happened.” Or questions for students to answer, such as “What happened?” “How would you feel?” or “Brainstorm a solution.” You can teach a peace path to your students, and then post it on a wall or paint on the playground.
You can identify and train student leaders to become conflict managers who are available on and off the playground to help other students. Students learn resolution techniques when kids lead by example, and peer mediation can be more accessible to students who worry about ‘tattling’ to adults. Find a curriculum that is right for your school.
What you can try this week:
- Create your own Peace Path like this San Francisco school.
- Notice when kids are blaming others on the playground and ask them to use I-statements.
- Reintroduce or teach Rock Paper Scissors to your students, and notice what happens when they try to resolve conflicts with the game.
Students with behavior issues are learning how to understand feelings, resolving conflicts and positively engaging on the playground.Belle Haven Elementary, CA