Conflict-free classrooms?

 

“Peace isn’t the absence of conflict. Peace is the respectful resolution of conflict.”

Heather Shumaker’s excellent book, “It’s OK Not to Share, and Other Renegade Rules For Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids” (the source of the quotes herein), lays down a number of surprising rules, from the one in the title to other nuggets, like, “Kids don’t have to say I’m sorry”, “We’re not all friends here”, and “Kids need conflict”. That last one is all about the priceless opportunities kids have to learn about peace from their earliest days in school. Shumaker does a great job of putting conflict in its place. And, she says, the place for conflict is right in the middle of the school room.

“Many of us avoid conflict and confrontation at all costs”, Shumaker writes, describing what is really an epidemic attitude in the U.S. … the avoidance of pain. Nobody wants their kids to face the pain that comes from conflict …. But when we shelter our kids from conflict, we deny them the opportunity that pain presents to adapt and learn. Shumaker describes how conflicts and problems are the way to learn about true peace, the kind that comes from facing and overcoming difficulties. She argues that far from protecting our youngest from these hard lessons, we need to allow them to pass through them, trusting in a young child’s ability to discover and try solutions.

“Children learn about peace by having problems.”

When conflict arises in the classroom, we (mature!) adults help children mediate conflict, not by preventing it, but by educating young ones about their part in making conflict, and helping them discover their part of the solution. We identify the causes of conflict (“When you passed by, you knocked over something that she made.”; help a child think about how their actions can hurt another (“It sounds like she is sad and a little angry that her project is knocked over.”); and model, or guide a child in, identifying solutions for the benefit of all (“What can we do now?” … “Let’s offer to help her build it again!”).

There is no real way to avoid conflict. It’s part of how we adapt and grow. Conflict only becomes a crisis when one tries to silence or limit the freedom of another. That’s what makes war between us grown-ups. Let’s teach our kids how to face conflict with patience and grace. It could change the world.

“Talk of peace isn’t meaningful to young kids. Neither is ‘being nice.’ Kids need chances to navigate conflict firsthand and learn what’s appropriate. What do I do when conflict comes up? What do I say? How do I set a limit on another’s behavior? Once kids know these answers they can mediate their own conflicts in most amazing ways.”

[This post originally appeared on Parenting On The Peninsula’s Blog]

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