How to Resolve Conflict Between Kids Like a Pro

Conflict is a familiar happening in children's ministry.  You've probably heard the following.

"He called me a name!"

"She won't let me play with them!"

"He's not supposed to be in our group!"

"She took my crayons!"

"He's sitting in my seat and won't get up!"

When conflict happens, here's how to resolve it like a pro.

Take the children who are having the conflict to a place where you can have a private conversation with them.  Make sure there is another adult with you.  (never be alone with a child) 

Have the kids cool down.  Ask them to take a few deep breaths and take the deep breaths with them.  This helps release some of the stress and tension they are feeling. 

Have one of the children share why he or she is upset with the other person. 

  • If they child starts sharing with you, re-direct them to share with the other child.  (Example - If the child says "she wouldn't let me play with..."  - stop the child and have him or her tell the other child - you wouldn't let me play with...)  This is teaching them to use direct communication which follows Matthew 18.   
  • Have the other child then rehearse back to the child what he or she said.  (Example - "You said I wouldn't let you play with us.") 
  • Next let the other child talk and share about why he or she acted that way.  (Example - I didn't let you play with us because I hadn't seen her in 3 weeks and wanted to spend time with her.) 
  • Give both kids a last opportunity to share their thoughts or view.  
  • Ask them how they can come to an agreement.  The goal is for them to come up with a mutual understanding.  If they cannot, then you can step in and guide the conversation as needed.
  • Once they've come to an agreement, encourage them to forgive each other if it is needed. 
  • Make it a teachable moment.  (If it involves forgiveness - share with them what God's Word says about it.  If it involves treating others with respect - share with them what God's Word says about it.)
  • Pray with them.
  • Once they are back in the environment, observe and see if the conflict has been completely resolved.  Is the child including the other child play in the group now?  Are they getting along?
  • If the incident involved physical conflict (hitting, pushing, etc.), then fill out an incident report and bring it to the attention of the parents when they come to pick-up.  Do this with the parents separately.   
When we teach kids how to Biblically resolve conflict, we are not only helping them in the moment, but for the rest of their lives.  Knowing how to resolve conflict is a skill they can use at school, at home and in the work place as adults.

Your turn.  The floor is yours.  What other tips do you have for helping kids resolve conflict?  Share with us in the comment section below.
    Conflict is inevitable among communities, including in schools. It’s easy enough for adults to solve kids’ conflicts. “Lena, I saw you take Josie’s ball. Give it back and say you’re sorry.” This type of adult intervention doesn’t empower students to solve their own conflicts. Conflict resolution is a learned skill; it takes practice. Adults can help youth develop this skill. Try these four conflict resolution techniques to build empowered, confident youth:
    Rock-Paper-Scissors. Did the four square ball bounce in or out? Who was first in line? Who gets to use the red marker first? These types of conflicts occur countless times in elementary schools. Rather than let small conflicts escalate and take valuable time to solve, teach students to play a simple game of Rock-Paper-Scissors. Here’s how to play:
    Counting to three (or while saying “rock paper scissors”), two players bounce their fists in the air. On “three” or “scissors”, players pick either rock, paper or scissors—as shown in the image. If both players choose the same object, they go again. Rock crushes scissors; scissors cut paper; paper covers rock. (Note: there is no physical contact necessary to play this game.)
    I-Messages. Children are known to blame others when a problem arises, (i.e. “He did it!”) Adults know that it often takes more than one person to start a conflict. Teaching children to recognize emotions, both in themselves and others, helps. Using an I-statement, such as “I feel sad when you don’t play with me,” allows children to identify their emotion instead of blaming others. Guide children through talking out their conflict with I-messages before discussing possible solutions. In time, children will become better at using I-statements without adult guidance. Second Step is one curriculum which encourages emotional literacy and the use of I-messages in schools.
    Peace Path. Provide guided steps for students to take when resolving conflicts. Teach these to students and post on a wall or paint them on the playground. The path may have statements to finish, such as “I feel... when....” and “I need...”, or things for students to answer, such as “what happened?”, “how would you feel?”, and “brainstorm a solution.” Create your own like this San Francisco school or use the Peacemakers program from Soul Shoppe.
    Conflict Managers. By identifying and training student leaders to become conflict managers, schools empower youth. Student mediators can be available on and off the playground to help other students. When kids lead by example, other students learn conflict resolution techniques from their peers. Peer mediation may also be more available to students who worry about ‘tattling’ to adults. Find a curriculum that is right for your school. We found some on the CRU Institute website.
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