Teachers have been working together to articulate our approach to conflict resolution at Catskill Wheelhouse. We’ve drafted this as a living document, as a starting point for conversation with families about how we as a school community want support conflict resolution.
Parents have been wondering about how we handle conflict resolution our school. How do we handle hitting? What do we do when someone takes something that another child was using? We see conflict resolution as a big part of our classroom- learning the social skills needed to navigate the interactions that happen each and every day. These skills are not something that is quickly learned, but learned through trial and error every day. We as teachers will hold the space for children, to help them find the words to express what they need, and work through the moment together.
Our first step in setting the scene for the development of conflict resolution skills is creating an everyday environment in which children feel respected, heard, and protected by clear boundaries. An underlying sense of safety and care helps children to be more receptive to teacher’s guidance and friends’ words when conflicts do arise.
When conflicts arise, ideally our goal is to have each child express their perspective, and to talk together to find a way that the needs of both parties can be met. In situations in which emotions are relatively calm, teachers help children to listen to one another, and encourage them to think of their own solutions to the issue that is arising. For example, if they were grabbing a shovel from another, we would ask them about why they needed that shovel, and then help them to figure out how to continue. Do they want to ask that child to have the next turn? Do they want to look for another shovel that they can use? Perhaps they come up with another solution as well, and we are careful to give them space to share their thoughts before we give them options, allowing for them to stretch and problem solve on their own. Often, children just need to feel heard, and conflicts sometimes vanish once children have listened to one another.
In other situations, emotions are very volatile, and children are not ready to listen to one another. Sometimes hitting happens. When this happens, we work together with all children, the one who has been hit, but also the one who was hitting. A child who has been hit needs love and support in that moment, and we help guide the other child to help check in on them to see if they need anything. We will also check in with the child who was hitting. A child who has hit another is feeling that they need to protect themselves from another child, or needs to hit to make a child stop doing what they don't want them to do. Often times, they need to feel supported, but also shown other ways that they can handle the situation. But one thing is always stated, clearly, quietly, and seriously- it’s not okay to hurt kids. If you don't like that, tell them. If they won’t stop, ask a teacher to help. They both need help in this situation, and we make sure they know that we are there to help everyone when a problem happens.
When a child is using an item, and another child grabs it, we intervene, and let that second child know it is not okay to take this from them. We honor the child who is currently using the item, and then support the second child, helping them find another way to get what they need.
When the same type of conflict recurs repeatedly, teachers seek to understand the underlying cause, and to address it. Is a child feeling isolated? Are they experiencing stress within a peer relationship? Are they experiencing things outside of school, such as a change from the normal routines, or an upcoming event such as a move to a new home or a new baby on the way? How can we best support them so that they don’t feel the need to hit?
There is no one way to solve a conflict, but we embrace these moments as prime opportunities for problem solving, as well as for self expression of needs. We support children in these moments, unconditionally. Their actions to not change their innate value, or how much they are cared for and loved. We let them know this, and let them know that we are here to help them.
We also recognize that there are times that a child just feels too upset to sort out the feelings behind hitting or grabbing toys from another friend and those very heated moments we offer the child time to take a break and check in with themselves and let us know when they are ready to talk about what has happened. We frequently remind friends of their positive qualities during our discussions with them and never refer to their conflict as a “bad” thing, but more use the moment to introduce resolutions that promote positive social skills. They may be hitting or pushing, and we are not okay with actions that hurt one another, but that never affects our love. We strive to make this clear in our actions and words- here you are supported, we care about what you feel, and here at Catskill Wheelhouse, you are loved.