Facing conflict in life is inevitable, especially in a school environment. During her many years helping students of all ages in an educational setting, Paulette Chaffee recalls witnessing the social and emotional struggles a student can go through if not adequately taught at a young age how to manage stress and conflict.
As an educational consultant, speech therapist, teacher, and children’s advocate, Chaffee expresses the importance of teaching kids how to handle challenging situations. These skills taught at an early age will help students avoid being overwhelmed by the increasing amount of work, school expectations, and even beyond school into their careers and future.
Chaffee suggests these tips to help teach young students an effective way to respond to conflict and stress:
Tip #1: Practice the Discussion of Feelings
Emotions can be difficult to manage for anyone, and not learning how to discuss and handle feelings at a young age can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms. Children tend to react to situations that cause upset quickly. Teaching young students to identify their emotions rather than acting initially from them helps develop the skill of talking about feelings in a healthy and calm way.
When a child faces stress or conflict, and feelings arise, teach them to utilize the words “I feel” as their first response. When young students can state their current emotion and what is causing it in the face of conflict with a teacher or another student, they can eliminate the bad habit of blaming or pointing fingers and focus on how a behavior impacted them.
Tip #2: Exercise Breathing Techniques
Often, when stress or conflict arises, so do emotions. Depending on the individual, emotions can range from anger to frustration and even silence. An excellent way to help young students successfully navigate stress and conflict after identifying feelings and emotions is to teach and practice breathing techniques.
Emotions can arise quickly during an initial conflict as a first response but learning to control emotions to make sound choices can be done through breathing exercises. For example, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard-trained and published neuroanatomist, says that anger should only last for ninety seconds for the average person.
Breathing through emotions using deep breathing will calm a child down and lower stress levels. When a child learns how to do this, a teacher or adult should practice with them. For example, ask the student to take a deep breath in and count to five, then exhale for another five seconds. Doing this nine times will allow the child’s emotions to pass, leading to clearer thinking and more careful listening.
Tip #3: Practice a Growth Mindset
A growth mindset is incredibly beneficial to practice and learning how to do so at a young age is all the better. A great visual teaching tool to introduce a growth mindset is ClassDojo’s the Mojo Show, created in collaboration with Stanford’s PERTS Research Center. Learning how to practice a growth mindset at a young age will make challenging situations easier to maneuver. Mojo teaches students about the brain being a muscle, how only challenges can grow your brain, and learning to love challenges is the cherry on top. Developing the skills to have a growth mindset will also help children learn how to brainstorm solutions when conflict occurs.
Brainstorming solutions also teaches students about point of view, or perspective, and empathy. For example, if a child faces conflict or stress, ask the child to describe the entire scenario from start to finish from their point of view. Then ask the child to choose a color marker and write three possible solutions to the problem. Next, if another individual is involved in the conflict, ask the child to imagine what it is like to be in the other person’s shoes to try and tell that person’s side of the story and perspective. Next, have the child pick a different color marker and brainstorm three possible solutions that would work for the other person. Once finished, ask the child if they see a solution that would work for both parties involved out of the ones brainstormed for each side. If not, then have the child brainstorm three more solutions that would work for everyone involved in the conflict.
About Paulette Chaffee
Paulette Chaffee is an educator, children’s advocate, grants facilitator, lawyer, and member of various non-profit boards. She obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Redlands in Communicative Disorders and a California Lifetime Teaching Credential. She is currently the Ambassador for Orange County 4th District and a board member of All the Arts for All the Kids.