Conflict Resolution for Children

Conflict resolution is an integral part of a child’s social development and needs to be taught from infancy. The Solving Table is one school’s answer to the need to teach young children this skill.

Failure to deal with and resolve conflict with another child or an adult is at the heart of many of the difficulties of children referred to our Behaviour Support Team. Unsurprisingly, inability to get along with others in the workplace is the most common reason for losing your job in the UK. If this is the case, why are we not making more space for Conflict Resolution in the school curriculum?

Only yesterday afternoon I was discussing this topic with a primary school head teacher. I was saying how for many children the only modelling of conflict resolution by teachers is the use of threats and coercion: “If you don’t apologize right now, you are going to have to stay in at playtime”, “You will pick up that paper or else I am going to get very cross”, and so on. Is that what we really want them to learn?

Children are not born with conflict resolution skills – they need to be taught. We need to teach classmates how to solve problems without always needing the teacher; for children to help each other by giving suggestions to problems.

William Glasser, of Choice Theory and Reality Therapy fame, devised the Solving Circle for dealing with conflict in any relationship. This approach has been used in many countries for relationship counselling, and for solving interpersonal problems in business and in the classroom. Download Instructions for Solution Circle.

“When you have a difference with someone who’s important to you, you negotiate,” says Dr. Glasser. But what happens if your partner digs in his heels? To deal with that, Dr. Glasser developed something called the “solving circle” When Glasser first started using the Solving Circle, he sometimes used a piece of string to denote an imaginary chalk line representing the “Friendship”, “marriage”, “classroom” etc. The individuals agree that they are coming to the Solving Circle to save something greater than their individual needs.

In the school setting, a Solving Circle can take place either at a table or sitting on the ground. What is important is that the two people involved in the conflict agree to sit down and sort it out for the sake of the friendship,  the class, the working relationship. When in the Circle, the relationship or the needs of the family/class etc outweigh the needs of either of the individuals in the Circle.

I have witnessed the Solving Circle being used by children as young as six years old. The pupils at the table in the picture above were able to tell me the 7 deadly habits and were able to describe in detail how the Solving Circle was used and how they had practiced the skills in pretend situations with each other.

The UK Government’s SEAL programme ( Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) has a theme entitled Getting on and Falling Out which contains some useful resources for teaching conflict resolution and peaceful problem-solving. Dot Hulley, Advisory Headteacher, has brought the materials from this theme into an easily-accessed website.

The Peace Table is a key feature of Montessori schools and nurseries, where children as young as 4 become natural problem-solvers.

I had a “problem-solving” corner where kids could go to resolve disagreements. At the beginning of the year, I talked about dispute resolution and modelled appropriate ways to handle disagreements. I also got children to walk through the process with mock disagreements. Then, once they found themselves in a situation, they could go to the corner and work things out. After successfully resolving the issue, they would let me know how they handled it and (if it seemed to be a novel resolution or just a good example of communication skills), I would let them share the process they followed with the class.

I would recommend modelling and engaging your children in a few fake disputes to familiarize them with the process. Then, try to back away if possible. My thinking as a teacher was, “I have problems of my own. I don’t have the time to fix the problems of 22 other people!” More importantly, the children really “own” the words and skills they use if they can handle things without adult intervention.

Louise,  Reception teacher ( not Montessori)

Staff at Our Lady of Mercy School Early Childhood Centre use art to help children solve conflict: provide a place for the child/children to sit down and peacefully find solutions to problems by drawing solutions. I really liked this idea, especially the school’s involvement of parents:

When the Problem-Solving table is utilized to resolve a conflict, your child will bring home the drawing for you to sign and return to school the following day.

If you have not already tried a Solving Table in your classroom or home, why not give it a go today!

Now read What Your Pupils Really Want


Charles, C.M and Charles M.G. (2004) Classroom Management for Middle-Grades Teachers Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon

Glasser, W. (1998). Choice theory A new psychology of personal freedom. New York: HarperCollins.

Image Credit: Brushcreek Montessori

2 comments to Conflict Resolution for Children

  • There are similarities with this and Restorative Practices where the focus is on reparing the harm whether it is between individuals or groups. My last book Mediation and Restoration in Circle Time is really practical with lots of ideas and activities on how to introduce the knowledge,skills and understanding in Circle Time. Children can easily be taught confilct resolution skills and, as one governor told, me they take them home!

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