WHEN CHILDREN WORK TOGETHER AT GROUP TIME to reflect on conflicts, they hear different feelings and viewpoints. From this shared information, they learn how to work cooperatively to solve the problem. Removed from the intensity of a difficult situation, children have the opportunity to calm down in a safe place to express themselves.

Group Guidelines

You may want to try these ideas at group time when the next conflict arises in your classroom.

Identify the conflict. Help children name the problem. These might be large class issues such as problems with noise levels, cliques, or name calling, or they may be smaller conflicts between children, such as sharing a toy or dealing with hurt feelings. As children verbalize the problem, encourage them to stay focused on the situation without a lot of extraneous talk.

Share feelings. Ask children to talk about how they feel, reassuring them that everyone will have a turn to be heard without judgment.

Model reflective listening. Give all your attention to the child speaking. When the child is finished, simply reflect or restate what the child said: Jeremy said he felt sad and left out when the other children said he couldn't play with them. Is that correct, Jeremy? The goal is for children to be able to listen well enough to eventually reflect back what the speaker is saying themselves.

Suggest solutions. Invite children to offer solutions to the problem. Accept all suggestions equally, and write them on chart paper for later review. If children need help, provide a few options for them to consider-but avoid doing the solving for them.

Take a vote. After all the suggested solutions have been shared, review each and ask children to choose one to try out. Children can vote by making a check on the chart.

Field-test it. Help children think about what they will need to do to try out the chosen solution. What types of changes need to be made? What new rules need to be set? Once you have agreed on these, test the solution for a few days. Have a special reflection meeting at the end of the week to discuss how the chosen solution is working.

Extending the Message: Keep the Peace!

Just picture it. Collect pictures from magazines, books, or the Internet that show a conflict that children can relate to. It's best to choose a familiar scene such as children fighting over a toy. Discuss the pictures by asking the group to reflect on how each of the children in the picture is feeling. Invite children to consider what might have happened before the picture was taken: What led to this situation? Then ask them to consider what might have happened after the picture was taken: How did the situation get resolved (or not)? Children can use paper and crayons to draw their own version of the "after" picture to share with the group.

Link it to literature. Using some of the books listed below, stop reading at the climax of the story. Invite children to suggest what they think should be done to deal with the problem. They can reflect on how the different characters might be feeling, and what they want or need to do in the situation. Don't forget to read the real ending too!

  • The Island of Skog by Steven Kellogg (Dial, 1993; $6.99)
  • Let's Be Enemies by Janice May Udry (HarperTrophy, 1988; $5.95)
  • Matthew and Tilly by Rebecca Jones (Penguin, 1995; $6.99)
  • The Owl and the Woodpecker by Brian Wildsmith (Oxford, 2000; $8.95)
  • Peace at Last by Jill Murphy (Dial, 1992; $5.99)

Pick a peacemaker. As children experience conflict resolution during group time, they become more adept at being peacemakers for others. Add the role of peacemaker to your class job chart. This child is enlisted when a problem arises between others. His role is to invite children to sit down and discuss the conflict and be the impartial listener.

Take a "time-in." Instead of having a "time-out" area in the room, how about collectively creating a "time-in" space? This is a place where children can go when they need time to reflect and contemplate. Choose a relatively small and protected space. Ask children to help you brainstorm the items needed to create a comfortable reflection place. These can include pillows, soft toys, and picture books that deal with conflict resolution.

Young children are quite capable of reflecting throughout the year on issues both large and small. Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of using group time for conflict resolution is the opportunity to see how much they have grown and changed, reminding us how our children are a shining example of the possibility for peace.

ON THE WEB: 

Clifford the Big Red Dog's 10 Big Ideas: 

www.scholastic.com/clifford/parent/

Dr. Bruce Perry on Scholastic.com: 

www.teacher.scholastic.com/professional/bruceperry/index.htm

Educators for Social Responsibility: 

www.esrnational.org

The Teaching Tolerance Project:

www.tolerance.org/teach