Students are often stumped when it comes to finding a resolution to a conflict beyond saying “I’m sorry.” To get over this hump, encourage students to take two additional steps: Ask creative questions to understand the other person’s needs, and make a written commitment to change.
One of the goals of teaching social and emotional learning skills to children is to prepare them to peacefully and independently resolve their own conflicts. Once our students master some basic SEL skills, they have a toolbox of strategies they can use to solve their problems. They’ve learned that calming down is helpful, they know they need to listen intently and paraphrase one another’s point of view, and they may use an “I Message” to express their feelings.
And yet when it comes to actually crafting a resolution, kids are often stumped. Many times they simply say “I’m sorry.” And then they repeat the same problematic interactions within a day, week, or month.
How can we help our students get over this hump? Two additional steps may do the trick. First, give kids a set of creative questions to help them understand one another’s needs as well as feelings. Second, prepare them to make a clear commitment to change their own behavior in a way that respects the needs of others.
Here’s the process.
1. SEL Basics
Make sure students have learned and practiced these basic SEL skills for handling problems and conflicts:
- Use deep breathing or self-talk to calm down.
- Agree to listen to one another’s point of view and feelings.
- Agree to paraphrase one another’s point of view and feelings.
Help students understand that to resolve a problem, we may need to do more than simply apologize for hurting someone else’s feelings. We may need to get clear about what we did that caused those hurt feelings, and agree on a change we can make going forward that will prevent this problem from happening again. This takes some additional steps.
2. Creative Questioning
After each person’s point of view and feelings have been shared and reflected, it’s time to get creative.
- Students ask one another, “What do you need from me in order to feel safe, feel comfortable, and move on?” Each student listens closely and paraphrases what they hear.
- Students use self-talk to ask themselves, “Can I give this person what they need from me?”
- If the answer is “yes,” students move on to Making Commitments. If the answer is “no,” students share why they cannot give the other person what they need, and suggest something else that they could do to make things better.
3. Making Commitments
Teachers can support this step by working with students to create a “Commitments to Change Book” that lives in the Peace Corner – or wherever kids go to resolve their problems. Steps for students include the following.
- Students decide what commitment to change they can make.
- Students write their commitments in a Commitments to Change Book.
- Students and teachers refer to the Commitments to Change Book as a reminder when the same problems seem to resurface.