Teaching Young Children Conflict Resolution

Six ways to train your early elementary learners to respond appropriately and deal effectively with their peers in the face of conflict.

By Mollie Moore

Children arguing

Especially in the primary grades, tattling, lashing back, and withdrawing are three common responses children have to being bullied, put down, or otherwise insulted. Many pupils have either had limited practice with conflict resolution (due to being an only child or kindergarten being their first classroom experience, for instance), limited instruction regarding how to properly respond in the face of adversity from a peer, or both.

To avoid as many emotional and physical issues as possible among your students, why not take a day or two to equip those vulnerable children with the tools to handle their own conflicts appropriately and confidently? Consider teaching your class members to:

1. Speak Directly to One Another

The temptation, especially for young children, will be to turn to the nearest adult before even attempting to work out a minor tiff with a peer. Instead, have them practice looking the person who upset them in the eye and trying to work it out together.

2. Use “I” Statements

Adults and children alike are far more likely to hear another person out and respond favorably when the other party voices how something affected him/her rather than how the “culprit” wronged him/her. The purpose is not to assign blame, but rather for both parties to acknowledge and address how each person is feeling. For instance, have kids practice saying sentences like “I felt frustrated when I got cut in front of after waiting my turn for the slide,” as opposed to, “You cut in front of me!”

3. Speak Kindly

Have students practice using a kind tone of voice and an unkind tone of voice, and ask them to note the differences between the two. What body language conveys kindness? What body language may make them come across accusatory?

4. Focus on the Situation At Hand

When emotions are running high, it is easy to bring up past offenses and/or unrelated insults in an effort to bring the other person down with you. Teach your class about the damage this can do to a person, and instruct students to instead take a deep breath, think about what is actually currently upsetting, and figure out how to express that honestly and kindly.

5. Be Willing to be Wrong and to Apologize

In many, if not most, cases, each party will have played some part in upsetting or hurting the other. In order for a resolution to be peacefully reached, both people need to be ready to humble themselves and apologize sincerely for the way(s) they hurt or upset their peer, regardless of what their intention had been—what matters here is how the other person perceived and received the interaction.

6. Accept One Another’s Apologies

Speaking the words “I forgive you,” or at least “I accept your apology,” lets the apologizer know that he/she was also heard, and that he/she does not need to carry shame.

Use these ideas only as a starting point for training your students in conflict resolution. Get creative. Cater what you teach kids to what they would benefit from the most, and perhaps to what they struggle with most. The important thing is to begin teaching these conflict resolution skills so that you send them out equipped to deal with others.