‘Tis the season for swimming pools, sunshine, and sibling conflict! Whether you’re working with your own children, in a camp environment, or in summer school, you know that conflict just happens. Giving young people the skills and tools they need to handle the inevitable conflicts that pop up not only helps them in the short term, but also paves the way for them to learn, practice, and refine their lifelong skills of listening, empathy, friendship, and communication, among others! Not to mention that any tool that isn’t reliant on an adult to do all the problem-solving can be a genuine help.
Our Guide for Conflict tool leverages restorative questions and a restorative mindset. The people with the best odds of knowing how to successfully resolve a conflict are the ones who are most closely connected to it. After years of doing this work, we also know that when the people involved in the conflict have a say in the outcome, they are much more likely to comply with it (often enthusiastically!).
The basic steps shown in the guide are:
- Establishing agreements that both parties agree to (and giving them space to assert some of their own).
- The next step is to ensure that the timing is right. Emotions will almost certainly be involved, but waiting long enough so they aren’t controlling the person’s behavior benefits everyone. Giving kids enough time to calm down so they can bring their best selves to the conversation (not just their frustration and anger) is the goal of this step. Model how to take purposeful deep breaths and stretches.
- Then it’s time to let the questions work their magic (and for the adults to get out of the way). Ensure that the participants are honoring the agreements and give them space to express their frustrations, emotions, concerns, and – most importantly – their ideas for making it right. This is the practice all young people need to become problem solvers. So even if they come up with an agreement that doesn’t work, valuable learning is taking place! Resist the urge to lecture or add your ideas. They will get there eventually!
- Writing down an agreement (or speaking aloud an agreement and asking an adult or another peer to write it down) is very helpful. It helps make the agreement more “official” if the participants sign it. Then the agreement can be revisited if the conflict persists.
How much should an adult help? It’s often helpful to have an adult assist with this process the first few times, but only to set the tone and expectations and ensure the agreements are being honored.
Recommendations: Give it a try. Feel free to adjust the questions if they need to be adapted for particular situations or ages of young people. We recommend trying it out with lower-stakes conflicts so that the participants can get the hang of it. Then you can work your way up to the more serious issues that sometimes occur. We have found that once kids try this method, they tend to ask for it!
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Here’s to a world where all children have learned how to patiently walk through conflict, how to listen meaningfully, and how to develop constructive solutions to problems, both big and small.