Solving Conflicts

Solving Conflicts

         Minor conflicts are a natural and inevitable part of social relationships. Our goal is not to get rid of conflict completely, but rather to create a safe environment in which children learn how to manage and resolve minor clashes, arguments, and disagreements. As teachers, we have a choice how to intervene. The Teachervision website gives four typical choices for handling conflict. I’d like to recommend the strategy that they call “Mediation,” since it will help foster problem solving skills that will create a more peaceful classroom and teach social skills that children will use throughout their lives.
         The most effective strategy for solving social conflict is to model problem solving mediation steps that the children carry out themselves. The goal of problem solving is to help children use their own language, identify feelings that result from their actions, and to come up with and evaluate their own solutions. Here’s a detailed explanation of the steps to use:

The Problem Solving Mediation Steps

               1. Establish safety. Approach the situation calmly and stop any actions that could hurt someone.  Your ability to stay calm and collected is very important in modeling social skills for the children and for being able to think clearly yourself. 1st graders Kyle and Matthew are arguing during center time. Matthew is grabbing a game that is in Kyle’s hands.  You gently put your arm on Matthew and separate the two boys. 
        2. Acknowledge the children’s feelings. This is a critical step that helps the children to be able to listen to you. Acknowledging feelings also helps children identify their feelings, and learn how their feelings lead to behaviors and consequences. “Matthew, I can tell you are very angry right now. And Kyle, you seem to be scared that Matthew will hurt you.” As children get better at this process, you should ask the children to interpret others’ feelings: “Matthew, how do you think Kyle is feeling right now?” “Kyle, how do you think Matthew is feeling?” Also remember the acting out cycle – if a child is actively upset, wait to carry out the other steps until the child has returned to a calm state. Otherwise the child will not listen or hear you, or learn anything from the process.
              3. Gather information. It is very helpful to allow the children to explain their view points, even if you observed the actions. Do not take sides. You will be modeling for the children how to think through problems. “Kyle, can you tell me what happened?” Kyle begins and Matthew interrupts. “Matthew, as soon as he is done, you can tell me what happened, too.” Kyle says that Matthew tried to take the game he was using and he had it first. “Okay, Matthew, it’s your turn to tell us what happened.” Matthew says, “I really want to play with that. I didn’t get a turn in forever. And Kyle won’t share with me.”
                              4. Restate the problem. This step allows the children to know that they have been heard and understood, and it helps them to see the problem more clearly. Be sure to describe the problem without judgment—do not use terms like inconsiderate, selfish, stubborn – just describe what happened.  “So, it sounds like Kyle was playing with this game and Matthew really wanted a turn with it. Kyle was not ready to share, and Matthew tried to take the game so he could have a turn.”
Photo from North American Montessori Center
           5 . Ask for solutions. Since the goal is to teach social relationship skills, it is critical to allow the children to generate possible solutions rather than just pronouncing a solution yourself. Try to have the children generate a few solutions, if possible, to encourage critical thinking. If the children come up with the ideas themselves, they are more likely to follow them, and to learn how to do this eventually on their own. “Matthew and Kyle, do you have any suggestions for how we can solve this problem?” Kyle says, “He should leave me alone. I had it first.” “Okay, is that a good idea or not?” Matthew chimes in, “No, I want a turn too. How about I get a turn in five minutes?” “That’s one idea. Any others?” Kyle suggests, “We could play the game together.” Okay, that’s another idea. Are these good ideas or not? Which idea do you want to try? Matthew says, “Okay, let’s play it together. But I get the game first tomorrow.” How does that sound, Kyle? “Okay.” 
          6. Provide follow-up support. After a problem-solving choice is made, check back with the children to be sure the solution is being followed and is working. Give positive feedback to let them know how well they’ve worked at problem-solving. “Matthew and Kyle, how is your solution working?” “Okay. Jesse wanted to play, too, so we’re all gonna play it now.” “Great thinking. You did a terrific job of solving this problem.” In your feedback, be sure to focus on the good job they did with the process, rather than the good idea itself. We want to teach children that the problem-solving process is the important issue.
         The downside to this approach is that it is time consuming so you can’t use it all the time. But don’t let that deter you! The more you teach children how to problem solve with these steps, the less you will need to do it, because the children will start to use the steps on their own. Ann Epstein has a wonderful book, “Me, You, and Us” that explores conflict resolution in more depth and other important social emotional skills in early childhood: