Monday, May 18, 2020


Several weeks ago a teacher asked for some help on CONFLICT RESOLUTION. Well, that's not my area of expertise, but fortunately I'm friends with Barbara Gruener and she has a brilliant mind, gentle heart, and great suggestions for you today!

Conflict. It’s a normal part of life for kids of all ages, but it might seem exacerbated in stressful times, like during our pandemic shelter-in-place that feels more like we’re under house arrest these past few months. And while our resolution to conflict can be as unique as the conflict itself, there are some tried-and-true strategies that can help us help our littles learn to respond rather than react when conflict strikes.

Start by showing this Sesame Street clip to help your children understand what conflict is and isn’t and that laughter is resilience skill that sometimes works as a pressure valve to release the tension that stress can cause.

Then, try one or more of these three things that have worked in classrooms and ought to easily transfer to a home setting:

The Path To Peace
Move through conflict on a Paths Of Peace Labyrinth like this, which we painted on the concrete recess slab but could easily be drawn out with chalk or set up using sticks, stones, or string. The two people in conflict enter the labyrinth side-by-side but quickly go their separate ways as they follow their side of the path to each numerical stop: 

At each number, the two problem-solving friends each:

1. State the problem. Each person gets a chance to talk about the problem from his or her point of view while the other listens.

2. State their feelings about the problem. Each person talks about how they feel about what’s happening while the other one listens to understand.

3. State the other person’s feelings about the problem. I call this the empathy stop, because it invites the participants to step into each other’s story, understand the problem from the other perspective, and feel what their friend is feeling.

4. Brainstorm any and all solutions. No judgements at this stop, so nothing is off the table. Encourage them to be as bold or silly, outrageous or practical as they can be with their suggestions for how they’d like to see the conflict resolved.

5. Choose the best option. The two people in conflict are now as physically close as they’ve been; proximity can help in deciding which action will work best for them. They may be able to negotiate and come to a peaceful resolution. They may decide to flip a coin or let the best of 3 rounds of Rock, Paper, Scissors decide. Or it could be that they agree to disagree, and that’s okay, too. The process is more important than the outcome; once they’ve decided, the hope is that they exit the labyrinth in harmony armed with an agreeable plan moving forward.

The Wheel of Choices
Conflict is ‘wheelie’ fun when you front-load with this paper-plate tool. During a time when all is well and there is no conflict, invite your children to answer the questions:

Ø What do we want to do when a conflict arises?

Ø How do we want to peacefully solve our problems?

Ø How do we want to treat one another in the process?

Brainstorm ways that they have seen (or would like to see) problems get resolved. For example, say they’re fighting about who gets the first turn in the game they’re playing; would they’d be willing to let their friend or sibling go first? Or maybe they want to roll the dice to see who gets the bigger number and allow that person to decide who goes first. If they’re squabbling over who gets the last cookie, maybe they’d like to break it in half or, better yet, split it three ways to share it with the caregiver in the room.

When you’ve got their list of suggested behaviors, get a paper plate and divide it into as many pieces as you have choices to offer. Fill in the pieces of the plate with the peacekeeping-strategies for getting along that they just brainstormed. After completing their Wheel of Choices, find a brad, cut an arrow from an index card, and add a spinner to the center of the plate.

When they can’t decide what to do, remind them to go to the Wheel of Choices and choose what’s best or have a spin and let the wheel help them decide.

Order In The Court
This activity is adapted from a weekly practice that one of my teachers did with our class during my formative years; try it before conflict arises in an attempt to not only talk your children through restorative strategies but also show them how equitable decisions are made.

Set up your own courtroom and let family members take turns playing judge, lawyer, and jury. Ask them to come up with conflict scenarios that they’ve seen or can imagine, or throw some conflicts from your childhood their way, then let the roleplay begin. Invite the designated lawyer to state the case and present one (or both) sides, let the juror(s) review the details and render a verdict and let the judge decide proper restitution. Start with easy dilemmas like this:

Ø Johnny hears his neighbor’s dog barking, so he sneaks next door and sets the dog free.

Ø Sirya gets on her parents’ computer without their permission.

Ø Joaquin gets mad and tells his friend that doesn’t want them to be friends anymore.

After you’ve settled the case(s), reflect together on what happened and whether or not they think that the sentence fit the infraction. This would also be an excellent time to talk about Restorative Practices, which focus not on punishment but on natural consequences and/or affirmative actions that can right the wrongs and restore the hurt to promote healing.

Speaking of healing, many conflicts result in the need for apology and forgiveness. Model what it looks like, sounds like, and feels like to apologize by showing your children how a give genuine apology and then providing opportunities for them to practice through roleplay so that when they really need it, they won’t be stuck not knowing how to fix their missteps. Try something like this: I’m sorry for {insert the result of their behavior, like hurting your feelings}; please forgive me. Help them understand not to excuse their behavior or blame it on someone or something else, but to take responsibility for what happened and work with intention to make it right. Remind them often that nobody is perfect and that it takes courage to admit and move through our mistakes. Then, instead of responding to an apology with, “That’s okay,” encourage them to say, “I forgive you.” Or “I accept your apology.” The closure that this will bring is crucial so that unresolved conflict doesn’t continue to hurt or, worse, threaten to end their friendships and relationships.

Author bio: Barbara Gruener is a nationally-recognized school counselor, speaker and character coach who has had the pleasure of working with and growing alongside of learners from every grade level during her 36 years as an educator. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara works passionately to influence school climate change while fostering healthy habits and caring connections among school families and their stakeholders. In addition to spending time with her family and friends, Barbara loves inspiring people to savor being in the moment as they unwrap the present with gratitude and hope.