Conflict is part of all of our lives. Clashes, struggles, rivalry, strife, disagreement, disturbance, opposition, discord. It happens and it is a normal part of children’s lives. There can be conflict between them, or conflict over something. It can be because they have different needs, or the same needs, or when there’s too little of something to go around and everyone wants it.
“She won’t let me play,” “He took my …”, “He’s being mean!” are complaints that parents, carers and school staff often hear when children get into conﬂict and are unable to resolve it. Common ways that children respond to conflict include arguing and physical aggression, as well as more passive responses such as backing off and avoiding one another.
At school, through our social emotional program and through processes such as Restorative Practices, we try to teach children a better way of managing their conflict. This includes:
* Explicit teaching - Providing explicit information and skills around resolving conflict appropriately
* Practice and feedback - Providing opportunities for students to practice conflict resolving skills in the lesson, while the teacher provides feedback on performance and skill development.
* Application - Providing students with opportunities to apply their skills and knowledge to real world situations beyond the classroom lesson.
As Parents and Carers and the most important people in your children’s lives, you can help. The following article from KidsMatter contains suggestions for families in helping their children manage conflict.
Set the scene for cooperation
Show how to cooperate and respect others through your own approach. Ask children to help solve the conflict and express confidence that they can work it out cooperatively. It is very important that children approach the conflict in a positive way, and believe that they can work together to solve it.
Help children handle emotions
Children may need encouragement and help to stay cool in a conflict – especially if they feel they are being accused or blamed. They may feel anxious and need support to stay calm if they feel intimidated. In conflicts that are particularly heated, children may need to have time away from each other to cool down before going on to work out ways of resolving the conflict. Taking time to calm down can help children overcome the tendency to react aggressively or withdraw from the situation.
Encourage empathy and respect for others
Teach children to listen to and understand the needs and concerns of the other person. Help them to ask why the other person wants something and consider what it might be like to be ‘in their shoes’. Learning to understand the other person’s perspective is a critical foundation for conflict resolution and for building positive relationships.
Practise communication skills
Effective conflict resolution relies on clear communication of feelings and wants. This can be especially difficult when under pressure in a conflict. Learning to speak clearly and respectfully takes practice. You can help children practise what to say to initiate conflict resolution, for example:
“If we talk about this, I’m sure we can sort it out.” Practising assertive ways for children to express their wants and concerns is also particularly helpful, for example: “I want you to ask before using my things.”
Encourage creative solutions
In conflicts people often get stuck in their own positions and can’t see other options. This is why it is so important to get creativity going when thinking of possible solutions. The brainstorming rule, that no-one is allowed to say that something won’t work, is intended to help with getting creative. Steer children back to the point if necessary, but leave evaluation of the ideas they come up with for later. It’s okay for adults to help children think of alternative solutions if it helps them to get creative.
When enough is enough
Some conflicts are too big for children to work out. Sometimes children are not ready to sort them out and the conflict continues to escalate. If children’s conflicts become very intense or lead to physical aggression, then it is important for an adult to step in. When a mutual solution is not possible you can still help your child to think through the alternatives that are available to him or her and choose the best one.
*This resource is part of a range of KidsMatter Primary information sheets for families and school staff. View them all online at www.kidsmatter.edu.au
Do not think of knocking out another person's brains because he differs in opinion from you. It would be as rational to knock yourself on the head because you differ from yourself ten years ago.” ― Horace Mann