The playground can be a great place for kids to develop positive peer relationships. Yet, the playground is also where kids can experience negative events. This can include bullying, rejection, and even physical fights.
Conflict resolution is part of a kid’s social development. A school-based conflict management program or a peer-driven negotiating class can assist kids to develop social skills. These measures can also help kids brainstorm conflict resolution ideas. Here are a few playground tips to aid caregivers in the development of conflict management skills for kids.
Every Conflict Can Have a Peaceful Solution
If you're a parent or teacher, you have probably seen how a simple squabble can escalate. Maybe one kid ran into another by mistake. Some pushing and shoving ensued, and their friends joined in. An accidental bump escalated into an all-out brawl.
One of the most important skills for kids to learn is that most conflict can be resolved calmly. When kids learn to approach conflict peacefully, they learn to take a step back and think before they act. It's important to teach kids to accept responsibility for their part in creating conflicts. Only after owning up can a kid learn to make compromises that work toward conflict resolution.
Kids can receive a better understanding of resolving conflict peacefully by using negotiation simulations. Plan games for kids where they learn how to react to conflicts. For instance, let kids role-play how they might deal with a bully. Then, hold a class discussion on the psychology of bullying. Make sure to help kids understand what they can do to help each other on the playground.
Talk Once, Listen Twice
In situations of conflict, it’s often important to listen more than talk. A key skill to teach kids is to give others a chance to talk without interruption. Listening shows respect. The act of getting heard can work to dissipate negativity and to begin finding solutions.
Negotiation classes teach caregivers and kids how to become conflict managers. Help kids feel empowered by having them elect an older fellow student who will support their class as a peer conflict manager. When a peer conflict manager takes time to listen to all sides, they can work out whether there are other underlying issues.
Maybe two kids fighting over a ball are actually holding grudges. This could be for something like a comment made in class the previous day. Through questioning and observation, the conflict manager or a present adult can get to the bottom of the issue.
Attack the Problem, Not the Person
When kids on the playground are yelling, pushing, blaming, and hurling insults, the situation is bound to get personal and degrade further.
A crucial tactic is to get kids to agree to some ground rules. These ground rules are set to dissociate personalities from the problem at hand. For instance, two groups of kids want to play at the swings. Both groups have to agree to stop hurling insults at each other before moving forward.
Once calm has been restored, the kids involved can engage in finding a solution. Encourage compromise so both sides feel they have won something in return for what they gave up.
Management of Emotions
Kids can get passionate and may feel strong emotions, especially when they don't get their way. Feelings of frustration and anger can fuel negative action such as yelling and fighting.
Mindfulness lessons can help kids manage their emotions. Children can even learn emotion management skills at a kids’ negotiation class. Training can equip kids with tools to rein in their emotions. Mindfulness can help them stay calm during playground conflicts.
Some simple strategies to teach kids for managing emotions include:
- Take five deep breaths.
- Count to/down from 10.
- Say the alphabet under their breath.
- Give themselves a bear hug. The act of wrapping their hands around themselves can be calming and comforting.
- Change the scene by moving from one play area to another.
- Take a water break.
Kids do well to learn early that the best conflict resolutions are those made in collaboration. Initially, kids need some guidance and supervision in thinking of potential solutions.
If you're a teacher or older kid tasked with playground conflict management, keep solutions simple. Negotiate fast, easy-to-implement solutions so kids can quickly go back to having fun.
For example, if some kids are fighting over a ball, negotiate a compromise where one group plays ball while the other plays another exciting game. You can set an exciting game up by introducing new rules, or by getting out special equipment that’s not usually available during recess. Kids are likely to be responsive to this compromise, particularly when suggested by an older kid.
You could also help the kids find a way to play ball together. Either way, a quick resolution makes the process enjoyable, and kids are more likely to respond positively to suggestions.
It's okay to teach kids that they can walk away when nothing else seems to work. Children need to feel comfortable enough to first try to manage the situation with their negotiation skills. However, if conflict resolution fails, the kid can reach out to a trusted older kid or caregiving adult. If no adult is at hand, the kid should feel comfortable walking away to avoid further conflict.