Conflict in the classroom can make a teacher feel like running away to a foreign country. It isn’t much fun for kids either. In addition to the conflict being a source of aggravation for teachers, resolving conflict is an essential skill for kids. While we can’t eliminate all conflict there are a few things we can do to minimize conflict and help kids work through it, hopefully on their own!
Prevention: An ounce of prevention is always worth more than a pound of cure. It’s much easier to help kids avoid conflict than it is to help them solve it. To prevent conflict, teachers must be proactive in teaching the skills kids are missing that lead to conflict in the first place. Think about what kids fight about the most. Is there a way to solve ongoing issues? For example, if kids are constantly mixing up supplies perhaps labels or different storage solutions are needed.
Literature: Children’s literature is a great source of examples of preventing and solving conflicts. Read-alouds can be used to provide examples of times when empathy, perspective taking, and patience are needed. Of course, reading a story isn’t going to automatically make a child more compassionate or patient, but regularly reading these types of stories and then discussing how they relate to real-life conflict provides a strong foundation for kids.
Praise: If you’ve been a teacher for more than a few minutes you’ve probably witnessed the phenomenon of praise. Praising the student doing something right usually gets more kids on task than punishing a student who is off task. The same is true of conflict. Of course, some of the positive skills we want to see are a bit more difficult to pick up on, but if you see a student sharing, being patient with another student, waiting to react, etc. praise what they are doing and explain why you are praising them. Kids love positive attention and will be highly motivated to at least try to implement those behaviors.
Recognize Passive Aggression and Intervene Early: Some students precede more overt forms of aggression by using sarcasm or by belittling other students. Often written off as ‘just kidding,’ this behavior is actually hurtful. Educate kids on how hurtful it can be and help them get to the root of why they are doing it. Help the child that is the target of this behavior respond in a healthy way. Then the other student reciprocates or explodes and a physical or verbal fight breaks out. If you can intervene early it is a much better teaching opportunity than if students are angry and upset. Help students find what is underneath their actions and reactions and teach them better ways to handle it.
Roleplay: One of the best ways to teach kids to resolve conflict is through role-playing. We can teach steps and talk to students about what to do, but when they are in the middle of a highly emotional situation they are much more likely to use the tools we’ve taught them if they’ve had a chance to practice. Role-playing is fun and highly engaging for students as well.
Keep Calm: In the classroom, you as the teacher are the positive role model. You can’t help a child if you are flying off the handle yourself. If you need to take a few minutes to calm down before addressing the conflict, do it. Student fighting can get under your skin, you are only human after all.
Listen: When you are ready, start by just listening. Kids need to get out their feelings without someone telling them what to do.
Directly Teach Skills That Students Need:
Ask For Help: Sometimes your students need more help than you can provide on your own. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your school counselor or other professionals. Teachers are pulled in so many directions that bringing in some outside help is often needed.
Curriculum for Conflict Resolution: Here at the James Stanfield Company, we offer a multitude of curricula for specific topics. One of our best-selling programs, The BeCool Series, addresses four classes of difficult behaviors that can be expressed by others: Criticism, Teasing, Bullying, Anger/others, and Anger/Self. It teaches self-control in managing conflicts in everyday situations such as sharing, keeping promises, peer pressure, and handling frustration. With over 20 specific assertive techniques to cope with conflict, the BeCool program helps students manage some of the most common and difficult interpersonal problems faced by young children and adolescents. Be sure to check it out below!
By: Amy Curletto
Amy has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.