5 Simple Steps for Teaching Conflict Resolution to Early Learners

Do you have a problem with tattling in your classroom? How often do you find yourself stopping your teaching to address issues between students? Have you ever wondered how you could teach students to solve disagreements on their own?

The Peace Rug may be the answer.

Creating a Thoughtful Classroom, Conflict Resolution in 5 Easy Steps

I first learned about the Peace Rug from a school counselor. I didn't know at the time, but it is a Montessori practice - the idea if teaching children about peace lies at the heart of Montessori. I am not a trained Montessori teacher, so I'm sorry I can't go into this in depth, however, I am familiar with the positive aspects of this philosophy and think it's valuable to include in any classroom.

For PYP teachers, using the Peace Rug gives you an authentic context in which to discuss many concepts:
  • It is a way for students to "Take Action". When students recognize that they can apply real life skills to solve problems, that's a big deal! They realize they can DO something to affect change, even if it seems small.
  • It also reinforces the learner profile attributes, communicator, caring, reflective and thinker.
  • It promotes attitudes of empathy, cooperation, respect, independence tolerance and confidence.
  • You have real opportunities to teach students about perspective, reflection and responsibility, some of the key concepts.

The idea is really quite simple and you can start implementing the Peace Rug in your classroom in 5 basic steps.
  1. Plan a Peace Space
  2. Teach the Routine
  3. Model and Role Play the Routine
  4. Adjust as Needed
  5. Be Consistent and Commit

Plan a Peace Space

First of all, you need to dedicate an area of your classroom for peace so that students have a somewhat private area to discuss their issue. It can be a rug, a corner, a table, anything really. Many of you already do this; it may be called your "Take a Break" area where students go to calm down or get some alone time.

I purchased a small, inexpensive rug (you can see it in the photo below) because I'm limited on space in my classroom, and that worked just fine. I placed it near the sink, which is kind of in a corner, low-traffic area of my room. You don't have to spend a lot of money or go overboard with an extravagant plan to make this work. Simple is always just as effective.

Montessori philosophy values nature and the comfort of natural items- try to add something to enhance your peaceful corner- a plant, something made from natural material/organic objects, etc. I again decided to keep it simple, and instead of having a peace flower (as recommended by some blogs I read while reading up on peace corners) I used a peace rock. Just one I found outside.

If you think about it, kids love rocks, I think because of how they feel in their hands, the texture, the shape. I embellished the rock just a bit to make it special for our class by painting the word <PEACE> on it. The new peace rock has a role in the conflict resolution routine, so keep reading :)

Creating a Thoughtful Classroom, Conflict Resolution


Teach the Routine

Ok, so now you're ready to actually teach your students what to do. Set aside some time (about 20-30 minutes) to gather your students into a circle to discuss recent issues related to friendship problems, tattling or other social problems that have led them to come to you for resolution. Pose the question, "Are there other ways to solve our problems BESIDES going to the teacher?" You get the point here- you want to inquire into the issue, but still guide them towards the idea of students discussing and resolving their own problems...How do people solve problems? What works best? Great conversation here!

You may get some stories about home (Mom or Dad yells....) and that's natural if your students are being honest and are really engaged in the conversation. No worries, just briefly address and dismiss it. It's actually a good way to reinforce the idea that problems are normal, everyone has them. Why pretend that life is perfect? "Yes, we all have our bad days and nobody's perfect. Everyone feels disappointed or frustrated sometimes, even teachers and parents. Let's talk about what we can do to help ourselves when we have a problem.... (Moving right along,) ....."

Explain that the class will have a new peace area/rug to go to where you can solve problems by talking them through. "I will show you how it works...." Now you will go over the script. This is something I wrote by adapting ideas I've come across. It's not anything "official".

For student 2, I purposely avoided the language: "I'm sorry." What if they're not? Saying "sorry" is usually an empty, tokenistic practice. It really doesn't matter whether they are sorry or not; they need to stop the inappropriate behavior. I learned from a behavior modification teacher years ago that it's preferable for the child to take responsibility for the behavior by saying something like, "I was wrong to," or "I made a mistake when I,". Again, everyone makes mistakes. Everyone. (#growthmindset) :)

Here's a simple example below...

Student 1:

This student speaks first and holds the peace rock, which is like a microphone in a way. The other student should listen until the rock is passed to them. 

I don't like it when ...(students names offensive behavior).
"I don't like it when you tap/keep tapping me on the shoulder in line."
It makes me feel ...
"It makes me feel annoyed/bothered/angry."
Next time, please ... (student names a positive replacement behavior, i.e. what they want their peer to do instead.
"Next time, please keep your hands to yourself when we're in line." (NOT "Don't tap me on the shoulder." You want the student to name a replacement behavior, stated in a positive way so that the other students can repeat it back and hopefully get a better understanding of what to do better in the future. Making it explicitly clear will help avoid future issues.)

Student 1 passes the peace rock to student 2 so that they may reply. This signals that they are done talking.

Student 2:

I made a mistake when .....
"I made a mistake when I kept tapping you on the shoulder in line."
Next time, I will .......
"Next time, I will keep my hands to myself when we walk in line."

****Make sure you read on to step 4 because this script changes!
        Oh, what suspense! :)

Creating a Thoughtful Classroom, Conflict Resolution in 5 Easy Steps

The purpose of the script is to equip children with the language they need to express their feelings in a positive, helpful way. The structure helps them internalize what needs to happen- they need to express what's bothering them and offer a solution. Ultimately, students can and will just say what's on their minds and not repeat verbatim- that's great! Without this scaffold, they often don't know what to say, OR how to respond.

Finally, in the spirit of forgiveness and starting over, students need to pick a way to celebrate their new beginning on a positive note. They may choose to shake hands, high five or hug. You can fist bump, do a secret handshake, a little jig, whatever floats your boat- it really doesn't matter as long as it lightens the mood and brings closure to the chat.

Model and Role Play the Routine

I suggest you have another adult (co-teacher or assistant, even ask your counselor or principal!) to help you model what needs to be said at the peace rug. If that's not possible, ask one of your more mature, confident, verbal (you know who I mean) kids to help you and discuss what you will pretend to do before pulling your class together. Even kindergarten classes usually have a child that loves to pretend and role play, so you should be able to find a willing participant in your class.

Now, pick a scenario to model with your partner in front of the class, fishbowl style. Ideas include:
  • name calling
  • annoyances, making noises or touching
  • taking something/supplies without asking
  • refusing to allow someone to play
I'm sure you can think of a few more!

Role play comes in where you invite two students to act out what they would say at the peace rug. I had a really confident class this year, and some of my friends were ready to jump right in! If they couldn't think of a situation, I gave them one and they had a go. I would suggest coaching them through 2 or 3 role plays a day for the first week or so, so that students become familiar and comfortable with the routine. This can take place during morning meeting time, at the end of the day if you have a closing circle/reflection time, or whenever it's convenient to your schedule.

I explained that the "Peaceful Communicator" poster would be put up next to the peace rug to help them through their discussions. And so, the peace rug was born!

Adjust as Needed

The students were really interested in using the peace rug and did so immediately. In the beginning, I needed to help them along, still coaching them, but managed to do this quickly (usually right after a recess) and effectively, not taking more than say 5 minutes. After a couple weeks, students really began to use it on their own, "Can so-and-so and I go to the peace rug?" I was really pleased at how they learned the routine and didn't over-use it.

Then one day, two of my boys had a problem that they just couldn't solve. LONG story short, it boiled down to miscommunication; what they thought they heard, or how they perceived it, misinterpreted it, you get the idea. After talking with them, I called a class meeting and we discussed the concept of miscommunication and how sometimes what you hear is not actually what was really said. After bringing up examples of conversations with parents and friends, my students easily related to idea that people often misunderstand one another and it's unintentional.

So, we decided to adjust the routine and revise the Peaceful Communicator poster to include an additional note.... "I think this is a misunderstanding." Now, students can recognize that miscommunications occur and they can acknowledge them and move on. They can explain their intentions by saying, "I was tring to ...." or just move on to resolution.

You can expect to have conversations about acceptance- sometimes student 1 may not want to recognize student 2's intentions, but they must in order to, as I say to my kids, "move on with our lives." Again, this is wonderful, authentic real-life stuff! Remind student 1, will stewing about this misunderstanding erase it from happening in the first place? Will feeling upset and holding on to what happened help you? No, it won't. So what's the solution? Move on. And they do, once they understand. Kids may actually be better at this than adults!

Now, these kinds of misunderstandings are not that frequent, let's be honest. :) I suggest introducing the routine with the "simple" poster first, and then present the "misunderstanding" version once this has actually happened in your class. You may download both versions below by clicking on the image. I hope it helps you in your classroom or inspires you to design your own peace poster with your students!

This is the revised version, made with student input:

This is the simpler version:

Be Consistent and Commit

Once students are comfortable with the peace rug, commit to having discussions about it every once in a while to keep it fresh in their minds, and be consistent about requiring students to use it with independence. Unless it warrants an office referral, always refer students to the peace rug when they come to you with a tattle... "Sounds like you need to go to the peace rug!" Don't be tempted to direct the conversation; if need be, sit down with them and listen and only intervene if necessary. We want to empower these kids, not solve their problems for them.

What strategies have your tried to help students manage conflict?
How do you teach peace in your classroom?

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