Kids are going to have disagreements with other kids. How they handle the situation will predict whether they can find a resolution to the conflict.
Who’s in Charge?
Ultimately, it’s the kids who are in charge of their interactions. As parents, caretakers, and teachers, it’s up to us to offer skills and help guide them towards positive exchanges.
We’re not going to be there every time there’s a snag in a social setting. But when we are, it’s essential we use that particular experience as a learning opportunity. We can teach, model, remind, and reinforce.
On the “Playground”
The playground is the largest hotbed for conflict among kids. Whether they’re in elementary or middle school, the schoolyard tends to be the place we observe the best and the worst behaviors betweens peers. (High school-age students seem to experience more conflict off campus and on social media.)
In today’s climate of bullying/victimization, it can seem that our kids don’t stand a chance of becoming well socialized. This is simply untrue, although sometimes it may not feel that way.
You’re the one getting the call to pick up your child in the principal’s office. Or, your kid comes home crying because someone called her ugly, fat, dumb, etc. Or, your child is solemn, won’t communicate about his feelings, and you want to reach out. There are tools, as adults, that we can offer to kids to help avoid (or lessen) the above scenarios.
Campus supervisors, “yard duty guards”, or whoever is on the schoolyard supervising can be a key figure in assisting kids with positive socialization—reinforced with parental guidance as well.
Tattling Vs. Reporting
It’s important to discuss the difference between ”telling on someone” to get them in trouble versus informing an adult of an unsafe situation. We want them to differentiate so we can keep kids safe, but also to empower the students to work out their own conflicts. It’s a skill they’ll need for life.
Set Ground Rules
Once the conflict begins, the rules of engagement must be set.
YES – using words, walking away, or seeking aid from an adult.
NO – any form of physical contact, throwing objects, yelling or name-calling.
Problem-solving is a creative action. Kids will come up with solutions that we may not have thought of. But whatever works and seems fair for both parties is a good resolution.
When You Witness Good Behavior…
When you see a kid teaching another the rules of a sport, praise him. When you see a student asking another to join in, praise her. Feel free to comment, “I really like the way the two of you are getting along.” Model expressions like, “Great try!” “My turn, “Thanks for sharing.” Communicate with kids in positive scenarios.
When You Witness Unsavory Behavior…
Never shame a child. You can talk to a small group of kids, but don’t single one out in front of others. Always remain calm. An emotional response muddles your message. Use clear, concise words. “Others feel bad when you call them names,” “If you can’t play the game by the rules, then perhaps you need to find a different activity, “When you behave “that” way, you’re showing me you can’t handle the situation.”
Give the child the opportunity to redeem his/her “bad” behavior. Coming from a place of empathy (and wisdom) will go much farther with trust and encouragement of “good” behavior.
And, of course, consequences need to be established up front as well. Consistent praise, reminders, and follow through with consequences will leave no one confused. Keeping the peace is where it’s at.