James and John used to be besties. They were so tight, they even got chickenpox together. But John became irritated by James always insisting on being the boss. John then came to the conclusion they could no longer be friends. Instead, he officially declared “Let’s Be Enemies,” the title of the classic children’s tale by Janice May Udry.
Kids will be kids – and that means there are bound to be conflicts when interacting with peers during playdates, visits to the playground or during the course of an ordinary school day.
What exactly is conflict? Conflict is defined as:
“A competitive or opposing action of incompatibles; antagonistic state of action (as of divergent ideas, interests, or persons.”
“A mental struggle resulting from incompatible or opposing needs, drives, wishes or external or internal demands.”
To adapt another more colorful phrase – conflict happens. As much as we may try to avoid it, conflict is simply a normal part of life.
It’s how these conflicts are handled and mitigated, from both the adult and child perspective, that may lead from tears and frustration to personal growth and development – or unfortunately, the opposite. It’s called conflict resolution, and it is the process used to settle and manage differences, ideally with a positive, win-win outcome.
How does one arrive at these peaceful resolutions?
Fear not, conflict resolution skills for kids can be taught in your classroom, and this blog will help you explore different strategies and fun and easy activities that teachers can add to their lessons.
John and James, although fictional characters, represent a relatable example of conflict resolution for kids. The two boys were able to resume their friendship because John confronted the problem and used his words rather than acting out, and James extended an olive branch – in the form of a pretzel.
Lingering effects of the isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have made it more challenging for children to engage with each other. And that has led to unfamiliar feelings of conflict when they are once again interacting within a classroom setting.
- Children encounter a variety of conflicts at school, which can include:
- Stealing and property damage
- Power struggles
- Relationships ending or changing
- Rivalries between peer groups
- Status differences
One of the oldest childhood discipline tactics – the timeout – can also be used as a method of conflict resolution for kids. For scenarios where anger-fed disagreements are causing locked-horn stalemates, calling a timeout can be a powerful tool. When you intervene and call a timeout, each child involved in the situation agrees to walk away from the problem and is instructed not to return until they have had a chance to cool down.
This is not an avoidance. Rather, it’s a temporary suspension of the dispute until emotions and behaviors have settled down. And once you’ve taught specifically-tailored conflict resolution skills for kids, your students will be able to recognize when they need to call their own timeouts.
But as an early childhood education pro, rather than simply adjudicating the matter and meting out punishment, you can take the opportunity to build up the conflict resolution skills for kids under your watch, tools that are essential for young students to learn in order to be successful in the classroom – and in life.
“Conflict resolution skills play an important role in healthy friendship development,” writes Katie Hurley, LCSW, a child and adolescent psychotherapist and author of “No More Mean Girls” and “The Happy Kid Handbook.” “A child who struggles to cope with frustration, for example, is likely to project that frustration onto a friend. A child who has difficulty finding solutions to friendship problems might feel hopeless when an argument occurs. A child who doesn’t know how to verbalize his feelings will likely freeze up and shut down when conflict occurs.”
The benefits of nurturing conflict resolution skills for kids include the development of communication skills, the opportunity to learn how to set goals and the strengthening of friendships and relationships.
As with any other competency, practice is a proven method for approaching the development of conflict resolution for kids. With practice, they will master the concepts via repetition and naturally get more comfortable with conflict resolution strategies as they gain more experience.
And the good news is conflict resolution activities for kids can be infinitely more fun, rewarding and creative than the effective, but basic, timeout.
Lessons that focus on conflict resolution skills for kids will include teaching empathy, teaching understanding, teaching communication, teaching choice, and teaching responsibility. Your students will learn about active listening, patience, impartiality, problem-solving, and will begin to develop emotional intelligence. They’ll learn about kindness and fairness, how to manage their emotions, communicate about the issue causing conflict, solve problems together, formulate and issue authentic apologies.
LET’S TALK ABOUT IT
Unresolved conflict can fester, and sometimes lead to physical altercations when tempers boil over. Many kids, however, choose to avoid conflict altogether. But it’s important, especially in a classroom setting, to address and solve the problem in a peaceful way.
Like John from “Let’s Be Enemies” who decided to express his displeasure with his close friend James, addressing a conflict can be the first step toward resolution. Talking it out may even resolve the conflict in short order, especially in the case of a simple misunderstanding.
Therefore, opening up a dialog about conflict resolution skills for kids in your classroom is the first step toward arming your students with strategies and solutions for solving disputes.
You can get the conversation started by reading “Let’s Be Enemies” out loud to your class, discussing it, and then hosting a conflict resolution for kids brainstorming session during instruction time.
The goal of this brainstorming is to come up with solutions to specific conflicts that have arisen in your classroom. This exercise will allow your students to share their ideas freely without fear of failure, and it will empower them because they are providing the solutions, making the activity student-centric. Preparation will help them deal with and work their way through problems when any conflict arises. It also introduces them to the art of negotiation.
Utilizing brainstorming as one of your conflict resolution activities for kids will also help you get a gauge on where each student is in the development of their conflict resolution awareness, and what needs to be worked on.
If your school has a counselor on staff, it might also be a good idea to ask them to attend your session, as he/she may have some valuable insights to share with you and your students.
MORE CONFLICT RESOLUTION ACTIVITIES
Brainstorming may not be considered a fun endeavor for all of your students, including those who may be self-conscious about speaking up in a group setting, so here are a few more suggestions for livelier and creative conflict resolution activities for kids you can try.
Make a Game of It – Introduce your classroom to the classic hand game, Rock, Paper, Scissors. This can be used to solve minor disputes, like who gets to be first in line for the water fountain or the head of the lunch line.
Creating a card matching game is another simple idea when it comes to interactive conflict resolution activities for kids. In this game, children will match the conflict to the solution (the conflicts and the solutions are written on note cards). This will reinforce critical thinking skills as they begin associating specific ways to resolve specific conflicts.
If you have the budget, invest in a Junior Learning: 6 Conflict & Resolution Games set for your classroom. The six games included are: Persuasion Pot, Keep Calm Meter, Are You a Bully?, A Spinning Solution, Sharks, and Jellyfish and Turtles. This set features a variety of game styles, including matching, sorting, puzzles and snakes and ladders/chutes and ladders.
Again, if you have the funds available, a variation on the classic game Go Fish can help kids manage conflict in a fun and healthy way. Go Fish: Cast Away Conflict plays like the time-tested card game, except with a new wrinkle: players must answer an open-ended question before getting the card they have requested. In addition to fun fish characters, the set’s cards present detailed but brief conflict scenarios that players must resolve effectively and calmly. This game reinforces strategies for compromising, apologizing and listening and it teaches children to adopt behaviors that can enhance their relationships in school and out.
Listen Up – While talking and having conversations are essential to conflict resolution, so is the other part of the equation: listening. Hearing what the person (or persons) on the other side of a conflict has to say is an important aspect of resolving it. Have your classroom participate in a listening activity. Read out loud to your class a scenario that could have various outcomes and spark a variety of emotions.
Scenario: A friend promised to come over to play soccer in your yard after school, but they didn’t show up, or contact you to say they couldn’t make it. You had your mom text their mom to find out what was going on, but there was no response. Then you see them at school the next day…
Ask the class how this situation would make them feel, and have them share their feelings.
Then add more information to the scenario.
Scenario Continued: Your friend apologizes and says they could not come over to play because their parents were caught in traffic.
After hearing the other side, ask the class how they would approach and resolve this conflict. Would it be different now that more information is available?
Ask your class how conflict can help them grow? (The answer: By listening and hearing someone else’s point of view).
Role Play – Have the children come up with different scenarios involving conflict, act them out while taking on various roles, and playing out multiple outcomes and solutions. Give them another perspective by having another teacher join your class and pretend to have conflict with you, act out the scenario and gauge the class’ reaction.
Create a Story – Task your class with creating short stories, either in groups or as individuals. These stories should include conflict and end with a solution. Have the kids read aloud or act out their story so that the class can discuss them. Their stories can be presented as a puppet show or play.
Solution Sticks – Here is one of the more creative conflict resolution activities for kids ideas: Instruct your students to bring in popsicle sticks, and when you have collected a large batch (30 or so), have them write solutions to an array of possible problems on the sticks. They can decorate the sticks colorfully as well, if they like. Place the popsicle sticks in a mason jar. When a conflict arises in the classroom and they are stumped on ways to resolve it, they can take a stick from the jar and try the solution that is listed on it. As they get better at resolving conflict, they will rely less on the jar of solutions.
Peacemaker Promise – Have your students make a pledge to resolve conflicts peacefully by taking the Peacemaker Promise. Prior to taking the oath, teach your class the differences between a peacemaker and a peacebreaker. Create a lapel pin or button to go with the pledge and host a formal oath and pinning ceremony.
MORE TOOLS & ACTIVITIES
Conflict Resolution Journal – Have your students start a journal dedicated to conflict resolution for kids. Following a conflict or disagreement, instruct your students to record the experience. Doing this will help them organize their thoughts, work through problems and recognize triggers, warning signs and patterns. You can also encourage parents to have their children keep up with this journal at home.
Deep Breathing – In the heat of conflict, engaging in a deep breathing exercise can help your combatants, we mean students, manage their emotions. Deep breathing is an effective conflict resolution for kids tool, easy and discreet so that it can be employed virtually anywhere, including your classroom.
Instruct your students to find a spot to sit comfortably and place one hand on their bellies. Tell them to breathe in through their noses, deeply enough that their stomachs rise. They should hold the air in their lungs, then exhale slowly through their mouths, with lips pursed as if they are blowing through a straw. Instruct them to go slowly with their breathing – inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds and exhale for six seconds. Practice this for three to five minutes.
Diversions – Similar to a timeout, the goal of a diversion is to buy time so that a conflict can be resolved in a healthy and peaceful manner without the ramped up intensity of heated emotions. Kids can return to the source of conflict and anger after setting the situation aside for the present and doing something else. Of course the following suggestions may or may not fit into your lesson plan or classroom, but they can be suggested to students for trying at home.
Suggested diversions to cope with conflict:
- Going for a walk
- Reading a book
- Playing a sport
- Listening to music or playing an instrument
- Drawing, painting or doing a craft
- Playing a game
- Playing with a pet
- Cleaning, organizing or rearranging a room
To provide incentives for good development of their conflict resolution skills, send a letter of commendation home with your students, or create a gold-star chart to track and reward their successes.
In addition to “Let’s Be Enemies,” there are several children’s books related to conflict resolution that may be available in your school’s library.
Here are 10 suggested books that will engage young minds with stories about conflict resolution for kids which are focused, understandable and relatable.
- “The Story of Ferdinand,” by Munro Leaf.
- “Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad,” (series) by Jacky Davis.
- “The Recess Queen,” by Alexis O’ Neill.
- “The Mine-O-Saur,” by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen.
- “The Squirrels Who Squabbled,” by Rachel Bright.
- “A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue,” by Julia Cook.
- “Enemy Pie,” by Derek Munson.
- “Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon,” by Patty Lovell.
- “The Tale of Pip and Squeak,” by Kate Duke.
- “Spaghetti in a Hotdog Bun,” by Maria Dismondy.
Check some of these titles out and read them to your class, discuss them with your students and reinforce the development of conflict resolution skills for children on a regular basis.
If you want to learn more about conflict resolution skills for kids, CCEI offers Conflict Resolution in the Early Childhood Environment. This three-hour intermediate course explores practices and strategies for resolving and addressing various emotional, behavioral and social conflicts that teachers are likely to encounter in the classroom.
Additionally, CCEI also offers a number of related courses on conflict resolution, such as Foundations of Positive Guidance, which explores the elements of child development that influence positive guidance strategies and basic implementation practices to use in the classroom. The course also covers the importance of working with families to establish consistent positive guidance practices at school and home.
To learn more about these courses as well as our entire catalog of 150+ offerings and certifications, click here.