My 4 Step Strategy to Teach Conflict Resolution in Elementary School

After a year-and-a-half hiatus of in-person schooling, many students are struggling the most with conflict resolution. Sure, we expected children to find it difficult to make friends and socialize, but we may have overlooked the importance of resolving conflicts on their own.

Considering we are now in the second semester of the school year, hopefully, your kiddos have established a few solid friendships. But with new friendships come new conflict, and the need to teach students how to navigate them effectively. While conflict resolution must be taught and modeled explicitly, there are a number of other skills that need to first be built on.

1. Teach Students to Identify and Understand their Emotions

Many students lack the ability to resolve conflict simply because they are unable to tell how another person might be feeling or how their actions might affect/impact the other person. When students are able to process and label their own emotions, they are slowly but surely going to be able to do the same for those around them. I love using this free Feelings Check Poster in all three settings of school counseling. Feelings anchor charts too are great for helping students understand what an emotion looks, sounds, and feels like. This exercise helps them understand that we could each have a different emotional response to the same stimuli, and it is, therefore, imperative to understand that even during a conflict, each person involved could feel differently about it, and will therefore respond accordingly. Conflict resolution calls for recognizing these differences and yet trying to find a compromise.

2. Teach Perspective-Taking

Once my kiddos are familiar with identifying their own and others' feelings, I love to get them talking about why we feel these different feelings. We talk about perspective-taking and optical illusion visual aids such as 'duck or rabbit' or 'vase or faces' are exercises I use to drive home the point. Here's when it's important for students to see that it is possible to have different or conflicting feelings/behaviors from another person, and that does not necessarily mean one is wrong and the other right. This then leads into a natural discussion on conflict resolution.

3. Talk about Size of the Problem Vs Reaction

Now that your students are able to recognize emotions and understand that it is normal for each person to have their own perspective/feelings regarding a situation, the next step would be to ensure that they are able to manage their own emotions well. Helping students identify the size of their problem is a big part of self-regulation and the first step in getting them to react appropriately to life's challenges, conflicts included. Being able to put problems into perspective will help students both inside and outside of the classroom. Some of my favorite activities to use with kids to teach this topic include this set of Size of the Problem Activity Pack, a Size of the Problem Scoot Game, and this Size of the Problem Digital Activity. Once students are more familiar with how to categorize their problems/conflicts as tiny, small, medium, and big, and react accordingly, teaching conflict resolution strategies explicitly is not such a Herculean task.

4. Address Conflict Resolution Explicitly

Like most other skills, conflict resolution needs to be taught and modeled explicitly. And the good news is that there are a plethora of interesting ways to go about it. I tend to use a combination of them all depending on the situation and the students involved. Here are my typical go-to's:

I-Statements: One of the most valuable school-wide lessons I teach is on using I-statements. I think it's so important for students to be able to express how they feel, why they feel that way, and what they would prefer the other person to do differently the next time. This I-Statements Board Game is quite handy and fun. I also find that it is extremely helpful to teach children how to apologize appropriately.

Kelso's Choices: Providing children with choices helps them feel more in control of their situation. When it comes to conflict resolution, I swear by Kelso's Choices, the leading tool for teaching conflict management skills for elementary school children. Kelso the frog is a fun and engaging way for children to learn conflict management and Kelso's choice wheel that has 9 conflict resolution strategies to choose from, also teaches children the difference between big problems and small problems. I love to show this funny video that the kid's can rap along to too! (For more school counseling videos, check out this post!)

Role Plays: If your kiddos enjoy charades, then role-playing is a fun way to teach conflict resolution, especially in a Tier 1 or Tier 2 setting. Assign conflict scenarios for students to solve and provide positive feedback along the way.

Games: Just like a remote control can pause a movie, stopping to pause and think of a solution is a helpful way to resolve conflicts and avoid problems. This Pause It and Resolve It game is a fun place to start. I also enjoy using these Conflict Resolution Reflection Cards which you can grab for free.

Groups: Every year, when I send out my Needs Assessment Form there is almost always a lot of kids who need extra help with problem-solving and conflict resolution. That's when I bring out this 8-week conflict resolution group that helps students practice being peacekeepers rather than 'pirates'. Students will learn how to resolve conflicts and how to implement conflict resolution strategies within their friendships both inside and outside of the classroom.

What are your favorite ways to teach conflict resolution? Let me know in the comments.

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