When children’s conflicts erupt in arguing, name-calling or fighting, adults often are tempted to deal with the situation by stepping in with a solution or by telling both parties to just stay away from each other. In fact, these conflicts offer an ideal teaching opportunity.
When students have ongoing conflicts that don’t seem to be resolved after various adult interventions, I often use a “Four Rs” model of conflict resolution to guide the children in solving their problem. Empowering children to solve their problems generally leads to a longer-lasting resolution, and it gives them the tools to resolve future conflicts without depending on adults to do so.
Let’s say Fred and Frieda have been verbally sniping at each other in class, and are constantly complaining to the teacher about each other pushing or cutting in the lunch line. They’re starting to involve other kids by telling their friends about how “rude” Fred is, or how “stupid” Frieda is. The teacher asks for help in resolving this ongoing problem.
My first step is to meet with each student individually to make sure there aren’t any bullying issues, and to secure an agreement from each to meet with the other in my office to solve the problem.
When we meet together, the students take turns telling about the first “R” — resentments — or what each is upset about. While one person talks, the other listens.
In this case, Fred says that he’s mad about being called names by Frieda and by her friends, and about her friends following him at recess, and starting rumors about him.
Frieda says she is upset about Fred cussing and calling her names. Also, she says, his friends make fun of her.
After both students have had the opportunity to talk and to listen, we move on to the second “R,” — requests.
Frieda says she wants Fred to stop cussing at her, and she wants him to try to stop his friends from making fun of her. Fred says he wants Frieda and her friends to stop coming around him at recess, and to stop calling him names.
Now we’re ready for the third “R,” — resolutions — or what each person agrees to do.
Frieda volunteers that she will stop calling names, and she’ll stop listening to her friends when they try to tell her what Fred and his friends said about her. She’ll suggest they find something else to do.
Fred offers that he’ll ask his friends to stop making fun of Frieda, and he will stop calling her names and making fun of her and cussing at her.
Finally, we arrive at the fourth “R” — recognitions — or what each person appreciates about the other. This is the mortar that helps to hold the agreement together.
Frieda says that something she appreciates about Fred is that he can be really funny; and also, he’s good at football. Fred says he appreciates Frieda because she’s good at math and helps him sometimes when he needs it.
After we plan for a follow-up check-in, I thank both students for their courage in coming together to solve their problem, and congratulate them on their goodwill and good work in creating their own solution.
Adults can learn a lot from the willingness and ability of children to engage with each other in solving problems with such directness and candor.
Alice M. Curtis, a member of the Olympian Board of Contributors, is a school social worker and social justice advocate. She can be reached at email@example.com.