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Teaching Students How to Deal with Social Conflicts

As an administrator I have many duties throughout the day, with one of the most vital being helping my students to resolve social conflicts, both big and small. On any given day, conflict could look like Jacob taking Ethan’s Show and Share and not returning it, Samantha kicking the ball too high and hitting Michael in the arm, or Tom not following the teacher’s instruction to come inside from recess.

Assisting students in resolving these types of peer conflicts is an essential part of their social development. And sometimes, just having another set of understanding and empathetic ears and eyes makes a world of difference in de-escalating a situation. But solving the matter for students, rather than assisting them in resolving challenges on their own, can prevent them from developing vital conflict-resolution and problem-solving skills.

So how do we teach young children these important skills when they have trouble reading social cues and understanding different perspectives? Here are some of the steps I’ve found to work well in navigating social conflict among my students.

De-escalate emotions through attentive listening

Part of what makes conflict difficult to navigate is how it brings out big, intense emotions that children may not have the tools to process. Before they can address the problem that caused the conflict — whether it was a fight over a toy or the fickleness of a friend — kids need to be emotionally regulated  before they act.

To get there, I try to approach the student with a simple, non-judgmental statement, like “Let’s go somewhere quiet to talk about it,” in order to send the message that they are not “in trouble” and to alleviate their lingering sense of doom about the consequences.

I also model active listening – no questions, no judgments, no interruptions. Often, letting them go through the motions of sharing and getting everything off their chest is enough for them to feel heard and settle down. After this, I immediately see their shoulders drop, their breathing calm, and the defensiveness lift. 

Take them out of the moment

Once emotions are in check, I find it helpful to have the child share what events led up to the conflict. This gives them the chance to share their story and allows me to better understand the bigger picture leading to the misunderstanding.

Giving the child a chance to voice their experience empowers and validates them – helping them to feel respected, valued and understood. The ultimate goal is to ensure that there is a takeaway and learning from every experience, so after they have shared their story I help them to problem solve and understand the broader lesson at hand.  

While teachers, staff and administration can support the process of conflict resolution at school, it’s also important for it to be promoted at home. By carrying on conversations from the day, unpacking incidents at home, and using consistent language and strategies, we can work together to support our students in working through conflict effectively.

Ideas to Try at Home

Here are some ideas for continuing conflict resolution development at home: 

  1. Listen attentively, without interruption.

Focus on your child and actively listen to what is being said without interjecting or adding comments. Allow them to finish all their thoughts before responding.

  1. Separate the person from the problem.

Try to focus on the problem itself and not the child involved. Hone in on the facts and seek a solution that does not involve blaming.

  1. Ask for background.

Try to get a better understanding of the full picture by having your child set the stage for the conflict. Ask questions such as, “Who were you with? What were you playing?”

  1. Retell the story.

After they’ve shared their story with you, try repeating it back to them in your own words. Have them give you a thumbs up or down throughout to let you know if it’s correct or not.

  1. Validate their feelings.

Take the time to recognize, accept and understand the emotions your child is experiencing. Show your understanding of their feelings without judgment.

  1. Ask what would help solve the problem.

Encourage them to have an active role in the problem-solving process by sharing what they think would be a good solution to the issue.

  1. Role play.

Try acting out tough situations that might require conflict resolution. You can discuss the process with them after, going through what they could do differently next time.

  1. Change the narrative.

Ask for a more positive recollection of the situation or shift the focus away from negative aspects to more positive ones.

  1. Reflect.

Have your child reflect on the situation by asking questions like, “How are you feeling about the situation? How do you think the other child is feeling?”

  1. Follow up.

Check in with them a few days after the incident to see if they have implemented their new strategies. 

We’re partners in helping your children as they learn to navigate social interactions in the world.

Equipping your child with these conflict-resolution skills can help give them the capacity to empathize with others. Ultimately, learning to manage conflict at school will help them have stronger and more fulfilling friendships, both in and out of school.

As always, feel free to reach out to your child’s teacher to learn more conflict-resolution skills that will help your child.


Ariella Shachar
Vice Principal, Himel West