Conflict helps us Learn

Conflict helps us Learn

“How were you brave? How were you kind? How did you fail? What are you grateful for? These four little questions can be a helpful tool for unwinding a busy day at school and supporting a growth/flexible mindset for your student. It takes the focus away from pain and directs it toward reflection. Let us also acknowledge that we are in the early stages of a a post-covid transition back to times that feel a little more “normal.” We are all decompressing from a recent change from being cloistered to being wide, open.

When students experience conflict at TKG, we (adults) do not put our effort in to resolving the conflict for children. We believe that the conflict is an opportunity to learn about self, others, and outcomes. Conflicts are a natural and real part of our everyday world and part of the daily learning process.  But similar to how some people respond to children in free-play…some may question: what are they learning?

TKG is a special place because we value free play – developing self-awareness and confidence – as part of academic learning. Play is protected and by supporting play, we give children the opportunity to learn about trust, cooperation, collaboration, and resilience – real-life learning. Free play is a chance for children to work on the social issues that are alive for them. Without play, they cannot work through the emotions and physicality that will enable them to take on the academic work. This is difficult to do in our traditional system of education and parenting but, this is #WhyWeTKG – we agree that time spent in free, imaginary play helps children “develop critical cognitive skill called executive function.” (NPR) Executive function is one of the pillars of self-regulation and, it is important to remember that TKG students are developing their skills.

TKG teachers encourage children to solve problems on their own, with guidance from parents and teachers – effectively providing a safe environment to practice negotiation, take responsibility, become self-aware of desired outcomes, and be involved in resolving conflict. Children are encouraged to organize their own play, solve their problems, and work both independently and in cooperation with others. Teachers are always available and close by to support conflict resolution and problem solving with children. (TKG Handbook). We frame conflict/problem solving with the following considerations:

  • Basic Safety
  • Keep your feelings/bias from getting in the way
  • Maximize opportunities for children to connect
  • Intervene or stop play to protect physical and emotional safety
  • Join the play/model to set limits or coach communication

If this framework is not working, then we need to check the underlying issues that may be affecting the person. Is this person’s cup empty?

What fills a child’s cup:
doing what they love to do or what they choose to do

What empties the cup:
rejection by peers, loneliness and isolation
yelling and punishment
doing what they’re forced to do or they hate to do

How do you give refills? Fill your cup first, then focus on your child.

We acknowledge that observing a child thrash a toy, say “mean” things, or climb a tree that seems too high can cause quite a bit of stress to us teachers and parents. Our mentor, Lawrence Cohen goes into detail in this podcast. We legitimately worry:

  • Is this child too aggressive? Will this alienate potential friends?
  • What kind of adult will they become?
  • They are not able to understand they should be sorry or remorseful.
  • What if they get hurt?

Larry reassures us that if we look at aggressive play “as signals of what’s affecting a child, we can embrace them, because, as Larry says, when a child is laughing and engaged in aggressive play, we can be sure deep work is happening.”

In the event that we, as parents, need/want to share our values about conflict resolution or repair – we try to approach it from a kind and humane angle. Bev Bos, founder of Roseville Community Preschool, reminds us “…so often it is not. Why are adults so afraid of being kind when disciplining? I think there are lots of reasons: one reason stems from how we were disciplined as children. In a tense moment we often go back to how we were raised even if we resented how we were treated. Fear, also, keeps us from being kind and tender because we are so afraid that our child will become a rude, hurtful, out of control adult. Sometimes we just don’t know a better way.”

Some ways, from Cohen’s advice, is to address the issues that come up for us is to engage:

  • What can we do with own fears when our children play aggressively?
  • How we can trust our children with their own risk management
  • How we can stop saying “be careful,” or “don’t” and reflect and wonder with our children as partners

Next step…The Apology.

“Sorry” is important but an authentic sorry is a valuable opportunity to learn. A forced sorry is an opportunity to create resent. Recognize that your child needs your support. When they are hurt, they are not thinking in their prefrontal cortex – they are just surviving. Help your children trust their instincts and embrace discomfort.

Another TKG mentor, Dr. Laura Markham has influenced some of our framework on this. Here are some guiding lights:

  • Go beneath the surface of an apology – listen to each other, express needs authentically, restate each others needs to help get to the core of the hurt. It is important to value each person’s voice.
  • Wait until the feelings of anger give space for listening – trust the space and time
  • Every child wants to feel connected and close to the people around them. Children feel bad when their friends are hurt. Don’t be in a rush to make them a hero or victim.
  • Help your child recognize what has happened (your stick hurt your friend – I hear that you didn’t mean it and I see she got hurt). Encourage children to apologize or repair when they are ready.
  • Don’t make an apology the consequence, nurture the empowerment in caring for relationships. Share the limit, with I messaging (“I’m not ok with you throwing rocks at your friend”)
  • Last question – what is your example of apology?

Should you say sorry for your child? It depends on your social pressure tolerance threshold. We encourage our community to hold space for each person in our circle. Judgement and shaming doesn’t help develop reflective people. Check out Hand In Hand Parenting for more tips, like role playing friend-making strategies.

Please check in with your student’s teacher to continue this parent education. If there is an interest, we’d be happy to get a Playful Parenting (affiliate link) bookclub going!

Comments are closed.