Children in conflict
A school counsellor’s tips on teaching the skills to handle those clashes between kids.
What often keeps me busy as a school counsellor working with young children, and girls in particular, is helping them to resolve conflicts with each other.

They seek to resolve these issues because conflict makes them feel sad. It is lovely to see how keen they are to resolve these issues, to admit fault, apologise and forgive. They learn that sometimes it is OK to agree to disagree, and that it is important to respect the different needs and opinions of others.

The simple steps of conflict resolution

The problem is clearly defined and the two parties agree to work towards resolving it, and in the process to listen to each other without interrupting.
  • Person 1 tells their side of the story (facts and feelings) while the other listens.
  • Person 2 restates what Person 1 said and may ask questions to understand the situation better.
  • Steps 2 and 3 are repeated with the second person telling his/her side of the story, and the first person restating what he/she says.
  • Both parties brainstorm possible solutions and choose whatever solution is mutually acceptable to try out for an agreed period of time.
  • A date is agreed on where both parties can come together again, and assess how the plan is working. If the plan is not working, they can seek another possible solution to try out.
As with solving most conflicts, there has to be some give and take. For example, I had two little girls with me last week who were in conflict. They had been friends for a long time, but now the one has found a new friend, and enjoys spending time at breaks with her, yet does not want to lose the original friendship.

They each had to give up something in order to gain or maintain something. So the one agreed to give her friend some space to enjoy her new friendship, and spend breaks with her, while the other agreed to still spend an agreed number of breaks with the original friend.

It seems so simple, but behind most adult conflicts are the same themes that the youngest children talk about - jealousy, needing to be right, holding onto the past and finding it difficult to deal with change.

I would love to think that if skills are learnt early on to resolve conflict, and the confidence gained that all it requires is the willingness to work on it, and sometimes the acceptance of help along the way, much future heartbreak could be avoided.

It was put to me in this way recently, that to hold a grudge against anybody is like taking the poison and waiting for the other guy to die. Why trade one's happiness in order to be ‘right’ or hold the moral high ground?

Two young girls were at odds over who was right about several issues. It's what we always fight about, they said, yet agreed that the arguing made them feel sad, and even when one was proved right, the victor did not enjoy the victory.

‘Which would you prefer, to be right or to be happy?’ I asked. They pondered briefly. ‘To be happy,’ they agreed.

How do you help your children deal with conflict?

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