Nip Conflict in the Bud

by Naomi Drew, author of  No Kidding About Bullying

“Hey, get out of my way!”
“No, you get out of MY way.”
“I was here first!”
“No you weren’t. I was!”
“You’re always cutting in line!”
“Hey, who do you think you’re talking to?”
“YOU, that’s who!”

And so on . . .

Author Naomi Drew

Sound familiar? If it doesn’t, you’re in the lucky minority. Teachers all over have been expressing frustration about the amount of conflict their kids are having. As one teacher said to me recently: “My kids are always at each others’ throats. I wish I could make them stop.”

The irony here is that kids are just as unhappy about conflict as teachers are. In a national survey of more than 2,100 students that I conducted with Free Spirit Publishing, a whopping 80 percent said they wanted to learn more about how to get along better with their peers, work out conflicts, and avoid fights.

Wikimedia Commons, CHILDREN_AT_RECESS_IN_THEIR_SCHOOLYARD_AT_CHATTAROY,_WEST_VIRGINIA,_NEAR_WILLIAMSON._THE_SCHOOL_IS_OPERATED_BY_THE..._-_NARA_-_556437.tifSo what can we do? Actually, lots. When schools and teachers take an active role in teaching kids how to handle conflict, and when effective structures are put in place, incidences of fights, disagreements, and bickering drop dramatically. Mean words that spark conflict often decrease and learning improves because kids learn better in an atmosphere of trust and safety.

Here are some things you can do right now to reduce and resolve conflicts in your school and classroom.

Make the following rule and stick to it unconditionally: No mean words of any kind no matter what. Teach it, model it, reinforce it, expect it, and say something immediately when someone breaks the rule. Never look the other way. Kids tend to value what their teachers value. Show that you value kindness over cruelty.

Have a designated place in your room where kids can work out conflicts. A “Peace Table” or “Work-It-Out Spot” where kids can talk things over gives the message that working out conflicts is valued and expected. Having a place away from the din allows kids a modicum of privacy without the eyes and ears of the class upon them.

Teach the steps to resolving conflict. The following Win-Win Guidelines help move kids from conflict to compromise. Show them how to use each step, then make sure to rehearse and role-play them before actual conflicts happen. Hang the guidelines on a chart near your work-it-out spot and put them on laminated business-size cards your kids can carry in their pockets. Before long, using these guidelines will become second nature. I’ve seen students as young as kindergarten using a modified version. And guess what? It worked.

The Win/Win Guidelines for Working Out Conflicts
1. Cool off.
2. Talk it over starting from “I,” not “you.”
3. Listen and say back what you heard.
4. Take responsibility for your role in the conflict.
5. Come up with a solution that’s fair to each of you.
6. Affirm, forgive, thank, or apologize.

Teach the following rules when you introduce the guidelines and don’t forget to do plenty of role play so your kids get comfortable:

Rules for Using Win/Win
1. Treat each other with respect; no blaming or put-downs.
2. Attack the problem, not the person.
3. No interrupting, negative faces, or body language.
4. Be willing to compromise.
5. Tell the truth.

Here are steps you can use when you introduce the Win-Win Guidelines or mediate a conflict for your kids if they can’t do it alone.

Mediation Steps for Teachers

Cool Off1. Make sure disputants cool off first. Don’t ever skip this step. Kids can’t work out conflicts when they’re hot under the collar.

2. Let them know each person will have equal time to speak and it doesn’t matter who goes first.

3. Ask one child to say what’s on his mind starting with “I.” The other child’s job is to simply listen for now, knowing she will have a turn to speak next.

4. Ask the child who was listening to “say back” what she heard. Stress that “saying back” doesn’t mean she agrees with the other person. It simply shows respect and opens the door for the other person to listen back.

5. Now have the second child say what’s on her mind starting with “I” while the other person listens and paraphrases what was said.

6. Give them some time to talk over the problem, cautioning them not to blame or name-call.

7. Ask both kids to think of a way they might have been “even a little bit responsible” for the conflict. Ask them to share what it was.

8. Ask, “What can you do to solve this problem?” Have them come up with a fair solution together.

Handshake9. Once a solution is reached, compliment them and ask them to acknowledge each other. They can affirm, forgive, thank, apologize, or simply shake hands.

10. Stay as neutral as you can throughout the process. Let the kids own it. Your job is to be an impartial guide who supports them in coming up with their own solution.

NOTE: If disputants argue, blame, or show disrespect, stop the process and have them cool off some more. Consider having them continue the following day if necessary.

One last thing: Try using these steps in your own life. It’ll not only make your teaching of conflict resolution easier, it’ll also help you handle whatever conflicts arise outside of school. And who among us doesn’t need a little help with that once in a while?

Good luck and peace to all of you!

Please share your own conflict-solving techniques and stories in the comments below.

The Kids' Guide to Working Out ConflictsNaomi Drew, M.A., is a nationally known expert on conflict resolution and peacemaking. She consults with school districts, leads workshops, and is often featured in the media. She is also the author of No Kidding About Bullying and The Kids’ Guide to Working Out Conflicts (with accompanying leader’s guide). Her website,, is a destination for people who want to create peace in their homes and schools. She lives in Lambertville, New Jersey.

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1 Response to Nip Conflict in the Bud

  1. Erin Frankel says:

    Great tips, Naomi! I’m planning on using them in the classroom and at home. Thanks for sharing.

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