How to Successfully Teach Teens Conflict Resolution Skills

Students (14-15) in classroom learning conflict resolution skills with Suzanne Marie

Introduction

In this blog post, we explore successful strategies for normalizing conflict and how to teach conflict resolution skills as an essential life skill for the socio-emotional health of young people.

Defining Conflict Situations

A conflict situation is a disagreement between two people or groups. It can be over anything, from everyday life matters to important life decisions. Sometimes everyday conflicts can lead to personal attacks and violence, but it doesn’t have to. In fact, a conflict situation can be an opportunity to learn and grow with positive outcomes.

Conflict is often seen as a negative experience, but it can also be an opportunity to learn different ways of problem solving for finding common ground from each person’s point of view for a peaceful solution. An important thing to know is when parties are in a conflict situation, it is because they have shared interests and needs that have not been met. By resolving the issues of interpersonal conflicts, parties can learn to manage strong emotions, improve communication, and strengthen their relationship in a respectful way. This is true for family systems, school systems, and societal systems. The interpersonal, relational factor is what creates the intensity of a conflict situation and generates big emotions from the parties involved.

Perception of Conflict

Conflict is a natural and necessary part of life. As we experience conflict we learn and grow. Learning that conflict is natural and a normal experience throughout life is important for young people. Starting with little kids and then elementary school, teachers can use conflict scenarios and conflict resolution lessons with role playing in fun ways to teach children conflict resolution techniques.

Middle school students and high school students can practice different scenarios including difficult situations to learn effective ways to resolve conflict. Conflict management is an important skill and teaching students young helps them to prepare for adolescent years when some young people may have a hard time navigating family stress levels, peer relationships, intense emotions, and emotional changes.

Conflict situations are how we test our limits and find out what we are truly made of. Without conflict, we would be stuck in a static, unchanging state, unable to progress or develop in any meaningful way. Learning conflict resolution skills is important for the education of young children. Conflict resolution activities and effective conflict resolution strategies are a great way for teachers to enhance students’ capacities through character education in social-emotional skills, emotional development, and communication skills.

Conflict Situations and Learning

A conflict situation is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be an opportunity for growth and learning. Disputants can learn about different points of view, what is important to others, and find common ground. With violence, however, these opportunities are lost. We need to remember that conflict and violence are not the same, but that each has its own symptomatic behaviours. Only by recognizing the positive aspects of conflict can we hope to resolve them peacefully.

Of course, not all conflict is good. When violence emerges, people can get hurt – sometimes very badly. That is why it is so important to distinguish between conflict and violence, and to recognize that they are not the same thing. Violence is a symptomatic behavior that often arises out of deeper systemic issues, while conflict itself can provide opportunities for growth and resolution.

In our world, violence is often portrayed as the only way to resolve a conflict. This is not true! There are many other ways to handle conflict peacefully. We need to learn these skills so that we can live together in harmony.

The media often glorifies violence. It is more important than ever for us to embrace the positive aspects of conflict and see it as a tool for learning and development. With this understanding, we can begin to use conflict constructively instead of destructively.

Momentum of Conflict Situations

Conflict drives movement, positive or negative. Identifying and addressing the areas of conflict in our lives, then using the conflict constructively to find solutions, improve relationships and lives, is an effective way to handle these issues. If we can accomplish this, the mental, emotional, and physical health of those involved in the conflict will improve.

Understanding the healthy functioning of conflict can help people handle the painful negative emotions and dynamics of conflict in their lives.

Thus, conflict is an essential element of change.

How one goes about pulling these elements out of the conflict is, in fact, the real purpose of conflict resolution strategies. 

Putting Conflict Situations in Context

The term conflict is used in many contexts. The following are examples of different types of conflict.

  • Interpersonal conflict. Interpersonal conflict takes place between two individuals, for example, between employees at work, or between a parent and a child.
  • Group conflict. Conflict can take place between two or more individuals who share a common interest, for example, a sports team or a club membership.

Common Ground in Conflict Situations

There is always common ground beneath every conflict that parties experience. This is because shared interests and needs create a foundation for relationships, which then leads to conflict when those interests and needs are not met. In other words, conflict arises from a lack of communication in relationships. This can be seen in family systems, school systems, and societal systems. The interpersonal, relational factor is what creates the intensity of the conflict and generates deep feelings from the parties involved.

Common ground is true for conflicts between family members, students in a school system, or even different groups in society. The intensity of the conflict that generates strong emotions from the parties involved can be addressed and managed effectively, then the conflict can be resolved.

Seeing Conflict Situations in a Different Light

Conflict situations can be seen in a different light. It takes two parties to conflict and what comes out with compromise and differences will allow you to find common ground with those you tend to conflict with the most.

A healthy family system needs conflict to work. Families that function without conflict are ones that are either dealing with a great deal of overt and covert hostility or trying very hard to be “perfect” and therefore not really living.

Conflict provides a chance to resolve differences, make changes and move on. This is not to say we should become complacent about conflict, but that we should view it as a necessary step in a positive direction.

I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.

Jimmy Dean

Life is always in change, so conflicts are inevitable, but this does not mean that all conflicts have to be bad, negative experiences.

Reasons for Conflict Situations

Conflict happens for a reason and provides an opportunity for learning and growth. Conflict gives us the chance to assess where we are and where we want to go next, to find out what is important to us and what we value. It brings out our true feelings, our deepest convictions, and helps us better understand ourselves, our relationships, and our world.

This is what Aristotle knew. He wrote in his famous book Politics that “conflict is not necessarily bad, in fact, it is pretty much inevitable,” and can be a positive force when the resources of those involved are in balance. Drawing upon his own experience as a polis leader, he observed that the most successful peacemakers were those who could “see conflict not as something to be avoided, but as something positive, to be desired and brought to its completion.

Discouraging Conflict Situations

When we discourage conflict, we not only rob ourselves of potential opportunities, but we also make it more likely that violence will erupt. When we try to shut down conflict, when we are unwilling to fight for what we believe in, when we avoid those difficult situations, we are saying that we are not willing to fight for our dreams or the dreams of others.

How to Positively Channel Conflict

So how might we positively channel conflict? I would argue that one of the most effective tools is the skill set of conflict management. The principles of conflict management stem from a belief that conflict is normal and inevitable. If approached appropriately, conflict can be a healthy and productive catalyst for change. We can then use our conflict to discover ourselves and become the people we want to be.

An important step in applying this principle is to recognize that everyone at some point in their life will go through conflict. Whether it is with a family member, a friend, a spouse or a stranger, conflict is everywhere. It’s something that we all experience at one point or another and cannot be avoided. When we accept this, it becomes easier for us to develop positive strategies for dealing with it.

Conflict Management

A basic presupposition of conflict management is that the parties involved in the conflict have the desire to find a mutually acceptable solution. It is not about winning or losing. It is about finding a solution that both parties can accept and come to terms with.

It also requires that both parties be willing to communicate in a direct, honest way with each other. This takes courage and commitment, but it is well worth the effort. There are no winners or losers in conflict management.

Finding the Common Ground in Conflict Situations

One way to manage relationships in conflict is to look for common ground between the parties. This requires a lot of reflection from the parties involved to figure out what can be done to enhance their relationship and foster communication. It is also important for the parties involved to remember that each person needs to decide on what he or she wants out of the situation. This is his or her right in any conflict. By focusing on the common ground when faced with a difficult situation, you can learn more about the other party involved and come up with solutions that are acceptable for both sides.

In conflicts between family members, there are two key factors that affect how well you do in resolving the conflict:

  • The degree of emotional maturity of the individual family member involved in the dispute.
  • The willingness of the individuals involved to disclose their interests and needs.

A very easy and practical example of common ground is the relationship between children and parents. Even if parents and children do not see eye-to-eye on every issue and often feel that they are fundamentally different in their beliefs, they can always derive a common ground. This is because children grow up to be independent individuals who will carry on with their lives, even after they leave their parents’ homes.

Conflict Management Training Solution

Teaching youth conflict management strategies is advocated by ‘Teens and Conflict Together’ (TACT) (Petryshyn, 2011). This approach combines skill-building with communication and interpersonal skills, introducing a system of values and principles that participants may use in resolving conflicts. It also involves a team-based approach in which participants are given the chance to develop their skills in conflict management as a team player, share, and eventually try out the approach learned in the training.

It is through programs like TACT that offer hope and promise and empowerment to youth and adults alike. The skills presented in this program have the potential to offer alternative conflict-resolving measures to youth who are faced with conflict in their lives. Youth are provided with the opportunity to promote understanding of how they manage conflict in their lives as well as how others potentially manage conflict in their lives. Self-awareness is central to any conflict-resolving measure and through the activities and dialogue facilitated in this program; youth are empowered to find different means to create understanding, develop healthy communication patterns and acquire valuable life skills that they may use throughout their adulthood.

TACT Program Overview

TACT (Teens and Conflict Together): A Facilitator’s Guide for Empowering Youth to Engage in Creative Problem Solving is a book about a program that provides participants with opportunities to explore conflict and problem-solving in hopes of empowering them to use a conflict management process when faced with conflict.

This book about conflict management shares the perception that conflict is natural, and that conflict can create opportunities for a positive learning experience. Originally designed for youth between the ages of 12 and 17 and through facilitating the program at various community locations in south-western Alberta, it became apparent that youth and adults alike could benefit from such a program.

TACT Program Learning Objectives

Fun, educational games, and exercises are designed to reinforce learning by providing a safe environment for the participants to explore conflict while meeting the following program objectives:

  • To provide participants with a fun, educational learning experience about conflict and conflict in communication.
  • To provide participants with the awareness of their own conflict management and communication styles.
  • To promote change and to provide participants with the skills needed to enable change.

Bibliotherapy in the TACT Program

TACT includes a literacy component that is supported through a narrative approach using traditional storytelling. This concept is applied to promote participants to use their own creativity in processing what meaning conflict management has in their own lives. Classic fairy tales, from the villain’s perspective, are written to provide a familiar example from the villain’s perspective of how perception and assumptions can influence and impact conflict management and problem-solving.

When required to write their own perception stories, the participants in the program use stories such as Spiderman, Shrek, Cinderella, Peter Pan, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, 101 Dalmatians, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel and the Lion King. Some participants have even used songs to express the villain’s perspective in a conflict situation. 

The exercise is not limited to them using a specific format but rather for them to think creatively about what the villain’s perspective would be if a story were to be rewritten from both sides. An example from one of the participants who chose Spiderman, and the Green Goblin was that the Green Goblin felt that he was left out of superhero stuff because he didn’t look all buff like all the other superheroes so the only way he could get noticed was to do bad things. This is an example of the potential lessons the participants can convey to one another to assist them to feel safe and connected. 

Examples of the TACT Program

Here is a blog post about how I used TACT with high-risk youth in a detention center:

Benefits of the TACT Program

TACT offers both opportunity and possibility for youth to witness the effects of their behaviour on others by participating in a group setting. The group setting is best designed when facilitated for natural learning to take place to offer insight into the skills being presented for youth to obtain conflict management skills, enabling them to process and deal with conflict in a constructive manner.

Finding Opportunities

Focusing on opportunities for youth to develop conflict management skills, TACT has been successful with a range of youth who have attended the program. The versatility of the program provides youth who encounter various situations, to learn through practical experience. Various needs and issues of the youth who have attended the program include:

  • Behavioural/ emotional/social issues
  • Experiences with social/cultural/spiritual uniqueness
  • Barriers to formal education
  • Relationship issues with authority figures, peers and families
  • Communication issues

Designed with the flexibility needed to deliver the program to a range of youth in various communities and to support various social networks, this program complements and enhances existing conflict management initiatives, anger management programs, communication skills programs, anti-violence programs and anti-bullying initiatives being implemented in various school districts and human service agencies around the world.

How TACT is Designed

The emphasis of TACT is on developing self-confidence in exploring concepts related to conflict and through practicing applying models for conflict management.

This program was designed to offer Youth between the ages of 12 and 17 opportunities for awareness of how to effectively manage conflict. This program provides an insight into the nature of conflict and how to apply different strategies to conflict situations to explore options for resolution.

The Chapters included in the book promote understanding of conflict management systems and problem-solving process skills to the participants relevant to their circumstances. The program offers participants an opportunity to separate the people from the issue and to find more effective ways of communicating. The theory and concepts of each Chapter are reinforced using educational learning tools through teamwork and role-play.

TACT Program Book

This program is composed of six Chapters:

  • Chapter 1: Conflict Defined
  • Chapter 2: Conflict Styles
  • Chapter 3: Communication in Conflict
  • Chapter 4: Perceptions in Conflict
  • Chapter 5: Managing Conflict
  • Chapter 6: Designs for Conflict Management

It is recommended that Facilitators complete the Chapters in order, as they tend to be progressive in nature.

Discoveries Through the TACT Program

Through facilitating this program over the years, it became apparent that central to the resolution of conflict is communication. Barriers to communication between parties have the potential to evolve into a conflict marred by misunderstanding and indifference. In order to effectively resolve a conflict, it is crucial that the parties communicate directly with one another about why the topic of the conflict is important to each of them, what needs and interests are important to each of them and what emotions and feelings about the conflict are being generated.

It is through direct communication that many things may occur:

  • Each party has the potential to learn why the topic of the conflict is important to the other.
  • Each party has the potential to understand how the conflict has affected the other.
  • Each party has the potential to seek understanding and communicate an effective message about the conflict to the other.
  • Each party has the potential for resolving the conflict through communication and understanding.

Summary

As you can see from this article, conflict is a part of life. You might as well embrace it and welcome it. Conflict is normal and inevitable. It’s not possible to get along with everyone all of the time. Everyone will have a different opinion and perspective on things. There will be times when we may not understand where someone else is coming from, or what they are thinking or feeling. Some conflict situations escalate and get out of control and others are quickly resolved. 

First Steps to Conflict Resolution

One of the first steps toward resolving a conflict is to determine whether one or both parties are willing to talk about it. If you are, you may need to build some skills before confronting the other party. It’s important to remember that you have separate feelings and concerns that have nothing to do with the other party’s behavior. Sometimes it helps to share what you’re feeling. All important facts to share with children.

Importance of Teaching Conflict Management

Conflict management skills are important in school, at home, and in the workplace. These skills help us to better understand and cope with difficult people and situations. They are skills that can help us to work together and reach our common goals.

Teaching students about conflict helps with their social-emotional development and communication skills throughout life. Conflict resolution activities can be used to encourage students to think through disputes and come up with solutions that work for everyone involved. In addition, conflict resolution activities can help students understand and resolve conflicts with peers, school staff, family members, and other community members.

Proven Resource

Using a proven resource like TACT helps students learn how to get along with their peers and deal with conflicts in a healthy way. Students should be taught how to express themselves, their thoughts, and feelings, without causing harm to another person. The best way for young children to learn to resolve conflict is for them to interact with one another in safe environments where they are able to express themselves and work out their problems together.

Appropriate Grades for Teaching Conflict Management

Conflict resolution skills can be taught at all grade levels, but are especially useful for older children and adolescents. One of the best ways to teach kids how to resolve conflicts is by emphasizing to them what strategies to use. It is important for children to develop a sense of personal responsibility, so you don’t want to make them feel that they are wrong for reacting in certain ways or having certain feelings. TACT offers a framework of best practices for how to teach young people conflict management skills. 

Reference

TACT (Teens and Conflict Together): A Facilitator’s Guide for Empowering Youth to Engage in Creative Problem Solving: Petryshyn, MA., Chartered Mediator, Suzanne: 9781451516593: Books – Amazon.ca. (2022). Amazon.ca.

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Children learn how to solve problems the same way they learn how to read, write, and add. Like reading, writing, and adding, there are three specific components to solving problems. These are teachable skills children can learn at any age.

Published by suzannemarie

Educator and published author of conflict management and children's books. Living life to its fullest. I believe in courageously honouring my truth and living my legacy. Lover of meaningful conversations, coffee, food, art, and building connections. I love writing about my fascination with culture, food, adventure, self-love, and living a healthy and fulfilled life!

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