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Conflict Resolution - Newsletter Archive
Peaceful Classroom, Peaceful Home, Peaceful World: Conflict Resolution
by Micaela Raine
Imagine a child who has been involved in an emotional conflict with a classmate during mid-day recess. When the children return to the classrooms, their guide has an exhilarating new lesson for them. How is the child who is distracted by the unresolved conflict going to focus on the lesson being given? Probably not very well. Better yet, consider an example a bit closer to home: One fine morning, your 4 and 6 year old are having an argument that is escalating in volume and intensity. The 4 year old proceeds to knock down the 6 year old’s block structure because he was not permitted to join in the construction. You, on the other hand, are trying to get everyone out the door with lunch boxes, bags, shoes and coats as well as leaving your home somewhat orderly. You need cooperation and teamwork, but instead are getting resistance and bickering. Rather than focusing on getting their shoes on and their things together, your children are completely preoccupied with how they were excluded or how their work was sabotaged. What do you do?
Conflict Resolution: Why?
“If we wish to create a lasting peace, we must begin with the children.”
How children learn to treat one another and cope with their differences is just as important as what they learn in reading, writing, and arithmetic. Social skills such as cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, and self- control are essential to children’s academic and social success. As parents, we have all been known to yell, scream, make threats and even say a few ‘grown-up’ words under our breath, but we feel there must be an effective way to find resolution. Using a conflict resolution process like the one your child is learning at school can help. Our children need to learn to generate socially acceptable ways to deal with problems. Research has shown that a child’s ability to solve problems in an acceptable manner is directly related to the number of solutions or alternatives the child can think of in a situation. A child who can think of five ways to get what he or she wants will generally display more socially acceptable behavior than the child who can think of only one or two ways. Having a ritualized procedure can help even the youngest children resolve conflict peacefully with a minimum of adult intervention. The communication and social skills developed in the process empower students to assert their feelings and experiences while maintaining respect for the feelings and experiences of others.
“Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict - alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence.”
If we want children to find peaceful solutions to their problems, we must allow them opportunities to resolve conflicts when they arise. Like parents, classroom guides dread the moments when conflicts arise that interrupt our plans. The conflict may seem trivial and irritating at the time, but it is very important to the people involved and deserves our full attention and empathy. Giving that is hard, but worth it. Challenge yourself to resist the urge to mandate the quick solution. Stop what you are doing and listen. Try to remember that having a clear process for handling situations like the one described above may not get you out the door in the next three minutes, but it will help your children develop into peaceful, productive and effective problem solvers as well as guarantee you a more pleasant car ride.
HELPS for Conflict Resolution
In the heat of a tense moment, it can be challenging to think clearly and guide children through their own peace process. When in doubt, use H.E.L.P.S. (from The Responsive Classroom) to remind you of the basic steps:
Have a place to go.
Explain how you are feeling.
Listen to one another.
Plan what will fix it.
Shake hands, give a hug, or acknowledge conclusion in some way.
Idea: Generate a list of words with older children to help expand vocabulary when describing feelings; words such as scared, sorry, sad, angry, frustrated, nervous, irritated. Have this list on hand so children can refer to it when composing I-statements.
Conflict resolution is not a matter of quick fixes, magical solutions or techniques. It is an ongoing process that does not happen in isolation. Conflict resolution is based on three initial themes: cooperation, communication and affirmation, which establish a firm foundation for the fourth theme: empowering children to act responsibly (to deal with conflict so that no one is hurt physically or emotionally). Cooperation: Successful conflict resolution is based on the contributions of everyone involved and on mutually acceptable decisions and solutions. This creates a sense of community and co-responsibility. Communication: Conflict often results from, or escalates because of, misinterpretations, misunderstandings and assumptions. Our goal is to develop a sense of trust and sharing in respectful ways (attentive or active listening). Affirmation: Mutual respect, appreciation and acceptance of others and their points of view.
Whether using a peace table, or an object that is passed between the participants to help them take turns to speak (a peace rose, a piece of mulch, stuffed animal, talking stick or a blade of grass), the conflict resolution meeting at school might go something like this:
1. Gather together in a safe and mutual space.
2. The first child begins by making an I-statement, and the second child listens. Delivering emotion-laden information as I-statements is essential: “When you _________, I feel __________, because ________.”
Children see things primarily from their own perspectives. They may be completely unaware of how their behavior affects other people, except when another person interferes with their needs. To negotiate fair solutions, children need to know how others feel.
3. The listener then repeats back his or her understanding of what was said, while making eye contact and listening gestures.
4. Once the first child agrees that the second child has heard correctly, the second child may make an I-statement. The routine continues in which one child makes an I-statement, than the other repeats back what he or she heard (a simple form of active listening).
5. Once everyone has said everything that needed to be communicated, generating alternatives or solutions is the next step. Help them define the problem in terms of what both children want to happen. For example, “What can you do so you have room to play with blocks and Janine has room to drive her truck?” When the problem is phrased this way, children get the idea that the needs of both are important. All ideas are welcome. Solutions that seem ridiculous may even bring a little comic relief later in the process.
6. After the children have generated ideas, they can evaluate them. Ask them, “What might happen if you . . .?” or, “How might Matt feel if you. . . ?”
Resist the temptation to judge the ideas. In the long run, adults are more helpful by encouraging children to evaluate ideas themselves and see why they may be unacceptable.
7. Ask for a decision or make a plan. Restate the problem, summarize the ideas, and let the children decide which idea they will try. Agreeing to disagree is a possible solution, as long as both parties were respected and agree to this unlikely solution.
8. Conclusion- a hand shake, a hug- something to signify that both parties feel satisfied that an understanding has been reached and peace has been made.
In the early weeks and months, of introducing this process, the adult always attends conflict resolution meetings as a “fair witness” to ensure safety and protocol. As children become more adept with the process, the teacher (or mom or dad) can ask if either one would like an adult’s presence. If not, we leave them alone.
Though it may seem a simple and formulaic process, it takes great courage for students (and wives, husbands, co-workers, siblings, bosses, mothers, fathers…) to initiate it and carry it through. Every time we help a child learn to communicate intentionally, rather than reacting out of emotion, we make the world a more peaceful place. Maria Montessori lived in a time of intense worldwide conflict. She saw in children the potential for change. Montessori schools around the world are giving children in conflict-ridden places the chance to grow up with a sense of peace and of purpose. One such program is the House of Flowers, an orphanage in Afghanistan which was created by Allison Lide, a Montessori Elementary guide, and Dr. Mostafa Vaziri. In a recent message to colleagues in the West, Dr. Vaziri said, “ I am amazed how war and peace, violence and genuine hospitality, innocence and corruption and other sharp contrasts can coexist in Afghanistan. We only hope that these and similar children can grow to become peaceful leaders of their community in that troubled area of the world.”
Last Updated ( Thursday, 29 January 2009 )