While the interweb forums are buzzing with T/F questions about children learning to resolve conflicts by watching adults, there’s definitely an, “Ummm, well yes” aspect to this question.
Children, and their developing minds, are always taking in their surroundings. They’re like sponges, after all.
And when an intense conflict is underway, you better believe that the littles are learning something from the experience.
The trouble is, when we’re in the middle of a conflict, we’re probably not aware of the effect it’s having on any nearby kiddos. We’re too involved in our own situation, and in some cases, we may not be in a mindset in which we can promote a learning experience.
So, I’ve got some ideas for you if you’re hoping to instill healthy conflict resolution practices in your students’ or childrens’ SEL toolkit.
Read on and help kids keep their cool.
Teach Children to Use “I”
When a conflict arises, it’s easy for anyone (adults included) to point fingers. Using the term, “you” places blame, is confrontational, and it takes accountability for the conflict completely off of the “you” user.
Helping children learn to use “I” in a sentence about the conflict helps them not only get in touch with their own feelings and understand their part in the conflict, but it also helps the other child become more clear on the emotional impact. And, they’ll also become less defensive.
When there is more “I” in conflict conversations, there is more time to reflect because the child is also consciously thinking about the problem at hand and how to rephrase it. In other words, it’s a sneaky time-out activity.
Furthermore, teaching children to explain why they’re feeling the way they do, and what their expectations are, can help children reach a reasonable end to the conflict and hopefully resume their friendship.
Using this technique can help slow down the snowballing of emotions, and allow the participants to reevaluate their own expectations.
Teach Children to Apologize to Resolve Conflict
With a heartfelt apology comes peace.
But just saying sorry doesn’t always help heal the wound, does it?
Typically, there must be meaningful statements attached to an apology in order for it to restore justice for those who have been hurt during a conflict.
Teach students to use feeling words to admit when they’ve made a mistake. Feeling words are relatable, and the wronged will feel understood if the other student recognizes hurt feelings, especially by name.
This heart puzzle activity helps students visualize putting the pieces of a conflict back together while crafting a heartfelt apology.
Know Who’s Listening to Your Conflicts
As for adults, we need to pay attention to the little people in the room when we’re in the middle of a conflict. No matter how big or small the conflict feels to us, it’s a big deal for a young child who is observing.
Kids will pick up words, gestures, and even the negative energy from the conflict. They’ll carry these moments with them into adulthood and if not taught how to resolve a conflict, they may end up reliving them.
So, the next time you’re in any type of conflict, and you notice a child watching. Take a deep breath, change your own language (use “I” messages) and do your best to bring the conflict to a peaceful close.
By consciously learning how to resolve your own conflict, you may even notice your relationship evolve as well!