Teaching Children to Confront Conflict

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Teaching Children to Confront Conflict

One important lesson for children that is often passed over is learning to confront conflict. When a conflict between two peers occurs – for example, “Mom! Joseph threw his toy at me!” or “Mom! Sarah colored all over my picture and ruined it!” – our first response is usually to intervene and correct any wrongs. We jump in to immediately stop the argument, and dish out punishment. Does this scene look familiar?

“Mom! Joseph threw his toy at me! Then he laughed about it! It hurt really bad!”

Mom enters the room and immediately turns to Joseph.

“Joseph, did you throw your toy at Jacob? That was not okay. If you can’t play nicely then you will have to take a break up in your room. Do you understand?”

Joseph nods silently while giving his mom an apologetic stare.

In this scenario, the child tattles and the parent jumps in to lecture. The child misbehaving learns from the parent what is acceptable behavior, what is not acceptable behavior, and what is expected of him from his parent. The child also learns what consequences the parent will deliver should his behavior not change. All these lessons are important, but what is missing, however, is a lesson on confronting conflict for both children.

The child misbehaving – Joseph, in our example – is interacting with the parent only. The only person he has to apologize to is his mother, and the only reason why he should behave nicely is because his mother will be upset and he will have to take a break in his room. The consequences are dictated and determined by his mother, not his peer. This is often why children will misbehavior with peers when parents or another adult is not present.

Confronting conflict on their own (with the help of a parent), teaches children how their behavior affects their peers, and that regardless of a parent’s reprimand, there are consequences to face with their peers as well. Let’s re-approach our first example:

“Mom! Joseph threw his toy at me! Then he laughed about it! It hurt really bad!”

Mom enters the room and immediately turns to Jacob.

Mom: “Jacob, can you tell Joseph why you are upset?”

Jacob turns to Joseph: “You threw the train at me and it hit my arm! It hurt really bad!”

Mom: “Now it’s your turn to talk Joseph.”

Joseph turns to his mother, but his mother stops him: “Joseph, look at Jacob. Talk to him, not me.”

Joseph turns to Jacob, but his silent. He waits for a few seconds with an apologetic stare: “I was just giving you the train to play.”

Jacob looks at his mom prepared to rebuttal. Mom points back to Joseph with a look of encouragement.

Jacob: “You didn’t give me the toy. You threw it at me. I don’t like to play when you throw things at me.”

Joseph: “I’m sorry Jacob.”

Jacob: “It’s okay.”

In this scenario, instead of the mother being a main part of the dialog, the two children were. Jacob and Joseph were able to confront each other and discuss the conflict themselves. This situation allowed them both to practice confronting conflict, which takes a lot of courage and confidence. It also helps a child learn how to regulate their emotions and anxiety during a state of arousal. Although one child is really upset, he practiced using a calm voice to confront his peer about what was making him upset.

In addition, the children also learn how to take responsibility for their behavior. An argument of “No I didn’t! He did!” is averted when the conflict is kept between the two children. The children do not have to prove who did what, as there is no adult to mediate. The mediation is between the two children. In this situation, Joseph learned how to accept his behavior, and take responsibility for his actions. Both children also learned that it’s okay to make mistakes. When children confront conflict together, there is no “naughty” or “bad” child, just forgiveness.

Lastly, one of the most important lessons learned when a children successfully confront conflict together, is how their behavior affects others. In the conflict above, Jacob stated: “I don’t like to play when you throw things at me.” Their friendship and time together was at stake, which was more valuable to the two children than a short break in their room. When working the conflict out together, children learn there are other consequences to their actions aside from how their parent’s will react. Acceptance from peers is important, and is what will help a child from doing hurtful things in the future when a parent or teacher is not around to see.

Learning how to confront conflict is an important lesson for children that can be practiced every day at home and at school. Take the next moment of crisis during play to teach children how to work the problem out together, accept responsibility, and learn how their behavior affects others around them. Focus less on the consequences, and more on the dialog between the two children. Utilizing these teachable moments will help develop more responsible and emotionally secure children, and will leave you feeling less like a dictator, and more like a peacemaker!

nessa  Vanessa Lemminger M.A., LMFT 53937
Marital and Family Therapist






© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Helpful Strategies for Redirecting Behavior at School

Helpful Strategies for Redirecting Behavior at School

By: Vanessa Lemminger, M.A., Marriage and Family Therapist 53937

1. Giving a task/ Helping others: Sometimes giving a task to a child or asking them to help another child can redirect their attention without having to draw attention to the negative behavior that is occurring.

For example:

Elizabeth and Elle are participating in art, and are playfully trying to poke each other with their glue sticks.  Teacher: “Elizabeth, could you help me show the class how to glue the circles on the paper in the right place? The other classmates may need your help, and I know you are really great at gluing!”

Another example:

Charlie is having a hard time sitting in his seat for art and is jumping around the area distracting other students, and needing constant reminders to stay seated.  Teacher: “Charlie, can you be my special art helper? I need someone to pass out the green paper and the markers to the class!”

2. Separating students: There are times when two children’s energy levels, temperament, and/or personalities may create an intense combination that distracts them from their work.  Finding a positive way to separate the children can help decrease behavioral issues while maintaining a positive tone in the classroom.

For example:

Kids can be grouped on a table in a pattern of boy-girl-boy-girl, or color (kids with blue on can sit at the table on the left, where kids wearing green sit on the table to the right).  Kids can also be grouped by counting off numbers.  All of these examples provide ways to re-arrange energy levels in the class without drawing attention to a specific child or behavior. 

3. Give choices that are positive: Always using “no”, “don’t”, and “can’t” can leave both a teacher and student frustrated.  Reminding children of the positive choices available can help the child pick an appropriate action, without drawing attention to the negative behavior.

For example:

A child is using the Lego creation he made as a pretend weapon, which is against school policy.  Teacher: “John, I see that you put a lot of effort into what you just made.  I know that using pretend weapons at school is against the rules, and I don’t want to see your creation taken away. Let’s think about what your creation could be! It could be a magic wand, a fishing pole, a rocket, or maybe a skate board!”

4. Ignore attention-seeking behavior: Consequences are a natural part of life and a very valuable lesson, however when dealing with attention-seeking behavior, automatically responding with consequences, or even any type of attention, will only reinforce the behavior.  When noticing a behavior is occurring for attention, do not make eye contact with the child, do not change your posture, and continue operating as normal. When the child has finally stopped the negative behavior or is behaving appropriately, then it is important to give them your attention and address them, thus providing reinforcement for the positive behavior displayed.

For example:

David is jumping up and down, saying the teacher’s name over and over to get her attention.  The teacher has a firm rule about raising a hand to indicate a desire to speak.  The teacher ignores David, continuing to talk over his loud shouts and only addressed the children listening.  After a long 10 minutes of David’s jumping and shouting, David eventually gives up.  David sits on the ground with the class and is quiet.  The teacher immediately turns to David, giving him eye contact, and states: “David, thank you for joining the class and listening.  Would you like to ask a question about the book we just read?” Always remember, only reinforce behavior you would like to see continue.

5. Give children chances to earn.  Mistakes and accidents are a common occurrence for children.  It is important for children to learn the consequences for their actions.  It is also important for children to learn they have the ability to turn their day around.  Making a mistake early in the day without having any opportunities to earn back privileges or reinforcement will only lead to more negative behavior.  Giving children chances to earn back privileges will give them the message that even if you make a mistake, you can still make positive choices throughout the rest of the day.  Stickers, praise, and earning back toys or privileges are great reinforcements to use with children when they are able to bounce back from a challenging morning.

For example:

Anton got in trouble for using markers to color on his classmate.  The consequence was that he was not allowed to use the markers for the rest of the day.  The teacher is aware that the last art project of the day involves using markers to color Anton’s favorite animal: a tiger.  The teacher knows Anton will be disappointed when he is not allowed to use the markers and participate in the activity.  Later in the afternoon, the teacher noticed that Anton was sitting very quietly during circle time, and raised his hand for every question he had.  After circle time, the teacher approaches Anton: “Anton, I know you had a challenging morning, and we lost the privilege to use the markers.  However, I noticed that you were able to turn your day around, and you listened very well during circle time.  I saw that you had a calm body and raised your hand.  That was a great way to turn your day around, and I am very proud of you.  If you can show me that you can use the markers appropriately, I will let you earn them back for our art project later.”

6. Create a safe break spot: It is difficult to calm down, reflect, and decrease energy levels when still engrossed in a chaotic environment.  Having a safe and calm space for children to “take a break” in, is a great way to allow children the opportunity to calm their physical state and disuse any high energy they may have.   Break spaces are a positive spin on a “time-out”, and are effective for adults as well.  The key to an effective break space is in its creation.  A break space should be partially secluded from the main room, having 1-2 partial walls.  Partitioning off a break space can reduce noise and create a softer light in the break area.  Great materials for a break space include pillow, mats, or soft textures.  Items can be placed in a break space, such as a few books, or a sensory item like a “squishy ball”.  Having water available by the break space is also a great suggestion. It is very important that the break space is not referred to as a “time out” or used with a harsh tone.  Taking a break should be a positive choice a child makes and is a self-care choice.  Appropriate ways to suggest a break include:

“Samantha, you look like you are getting frustrated at David.  Would you like to take a break?”

“Ella, I noticed you were having a hard time paying attention during circle time.  Would you like to calm your body and take a break?”

“Julia, instead of throwing your project on the floor, you can say, “I am frustrated and need a break!”  Then I will know that you need a break in the break space.

© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.