Nowadays, it seems common conflicts among children end in tragic deaths. What could have been easily avoided by individuals with cooler heads and better reasoning skills is now aggravated by children with big egos and a lack of anger-management skills.
We need to teach our youth more effective ways of handling conflicts with their peers. In most Chicago public schools, there is no curriculum that explicitly teaches students these skills. Therefore, it is up to parents to educate children on the ways to solve problems with peers by calmly using their minds and mouths instead of their hands. Use the strategies below to equip your child with conflict-resolution strategies that can keep them and their peers safe.
An I-statement is a handy tool for your child to use in situations where they are offended by another. I-statements are statements that start with I and identify the offender’s behaviors without sounding accusatory. These statements allow the offender to listen without being defensive and apologize for what they did wrong. For example, “I feel hurt when you say mean things about my mother. I would prefer if you talk to me without using my mother’s name.” Tell your child to always use I-statements with the offender privately, so the child who receives it doesn’t feel like they have to save face in front of their friends. As a teacher, I often have my students postpone a dispute and then use an I-statement with each other when they have calmed down. It is amazing how well they maintain relationships in spite of petty situations that could have been become worse if handled with a you-statement, such as, “You get on my nerves!”
Negotiating allows children to listen to each other’s arguments and decide which point of view is best. Teach your child by negotiating things at home. For example, if you celebrate Kwanzaa, have each of your children decide where to place the kinara (candleholder). Then have each child come up with two reasons why they think the spot he or she picked would be best. Before they start discussing, give them rules for negotiating, such as no name-calling and keep your eyes on the speaker. Once your children are comfortable negotiating with family, have them practice their skills with friends, church members or classmates. Even if peers are not able to use the strategy effectively, your child will be a model for effective communication, helping their peers learn a new conflict-resolution strategy they had not known before.
Tell without tattling
Teach your child the way to ask for help without being a “tattle-tell.” When arguing over who gets to be first at double-dutch rope, for instance, a tattle-tell might go up to a nearby adult and say, “Jackie won’t let me be first!” Instead say, “Jackie and I are having a hard time deciding who should be first. What do you think we should do?” After you teach your child how to ask for help, you and your child should come up with potential people to consult if they are having a hard time handling their differences with a peer.
Tell your child that the person from whom they elicit advice should not be involved in the conflict, and the person should be someone they have seen handle problems fairly before. If they are at school, they can solicit the advice of a teacher, principal or coach. If they are hanging out with friends on their block, they can ask an older neighbor.
The Internet is a great resource to use for learning more conflict-resolution strategies to teach your kids. For more detailed tips, check out the University of Missouri’s 4H Volunteers’ Web site at 4h.missouri.edu/getinvolved/volunteer/volunteertraining/, where you can click on the “lessons menu” link, click on Lesson 4, and then click on “how to help kids solve conflicts successfully.”
Let’s start a revolution that equips our students with managing conflicts peacefully. If we teach our children to solve problems by negotiating, using I-statements, and asking for help, we will make our children much better people to learn with, work with and grow old with.
China Hill is a teacher at KIPP Ascend Charter School on the West Side.