Four Prerequisites for Teaching Conflict Resolution

Author: Gretchen Huesmann

Four Essentials

A new school year brings a fresh set of personalities and preferences leading to both laughter and tears; fun and fighting. Our job includes equipping our students with the knowledge, tools, and skills needed to resolve social conflicts as they arise. Before we begin to help children solve social dilemmas, however, four prerequisites must be met.

Conflict Resolution
Know Your Students

Spend the first few weeks of school learning your students’ temperaments. Monitor how they respond during social conflicts, making note of repeated behaviors and reactions. Some schools provide built-in opportunities that provide further information, such as Open House Night, home visits, or parent surveys. Observe how students interact with their parents and siblings and how they respond to parental intervention. These early observations will provide the intel needed to equip your students with the best problem-solving tools.

Clear Expectations

Establishing simple, clear guidelines from the start helps students understand appropriate and acceptable behaviors. In classrooms with young children, keep the list of rules low, no more than three or four. Include visuals—photographs or clipart—as well as written guidelines.

Some educators prefer to involve their students in the development of class rules which gives the children a sense of ownership. Whichever method you implement, be sure to explain each one in various scenarios and review often. Watch for opportunities to give positive reinforcement when children comply. You will frequently refer to these guidelines when teaching conflict resolution skills.

Emotional Identification

Before social situations can be solved, they must be defined. To do so, children require the emotive vocabulary necessary to express how they feel. For example, feelings of anger and disappointment can present identically with loud words and an angry face, making the emotions difficult to distinguish. Helping children identify how they feel, and why or what prompted their emotions, initiates the important conversations vital to resolving social dilemmas.

Calming Strategies

Next, teach children to self-regulate or manage their emotions. This important life skill often involves deep breathing, counting, or taking a break. Use picture books or scripted stories to enhance discussion about self-regulation. Create a calming area in your classroom where children can retreat to calm down. Display a feelings poster and include a calming kit with squeezy balls, fidget toys, and books about emotions. Keep in mind some students require a more active approach such as stretching, running, or jumping to release pent-up emotions. Above all, model calming strategies throughout the day showing even adults need to self-regulate.

Keep in mind, the four requirements outlined above apply to any age group. They represent the knowledge and tools necessary for those who strive for social harmony. Revisited and rehearsed at each level, these important elements can lead to a society focused on empathy and unity rather than division. For more about classroom management, check out “Help, My First Graders are Out of Control.” You can find scripted stories at the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning.

About the Author

Gretchen Huesmann is a teacher, speaker, and award-winning author. She has taught in seven U.S. states for over three decades. When not in the classroom, Gretchen enjoys mentoring and encouraging educators. She is a member of Word Weavers International and enjoys writing non-fiction for adults and children’s fiction. She and her husband of 33 years have raised 4 children and reside in Florida.
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