Tips for Teaching Conflict Competence to Physically Distanced Children

A bored and lonely looking child picked berries one-by-one from my front hedge and mechanically ground each into the pile of snow I’d just swept from the public walk. In a ‘normal’ year, I might have given a short lesson about birds depending on berries in winter, or asked the child to not crush berry-stained snow into the sidewalk. One year into the pandemic, I let the small member of Generation COVID have that twenty minutes of entertainment.

Conflict Competence for physically distanced children

As I’m fond of saying, conflict is not a spectator sport. When conflict emerges we engage with it, each in our own way. From those experiential encounters with peers and mentors, we practice our conflict skills.

Start from this premise: Conflict Competence is foundational for healthy and positive (1.) relationships, (2.) sociability, and (3.) identity.

So, how will kids become conflict competent when the usual skill-builders are distant? Amidst dealing with children’s anxiety and lessons, add preparing children to engage with healthy and positive real life conflicts. Here are some simple exercises to do with or assign to bored children stuck at home.

Online multiplies conflict avoidance options

Like the TV contestants of Love is Blind, youths are proficient at hanging out online. And, if conflict gets uncomfortable, they can hang in or hang up. They can close the browser, switch tabs, open another app, flame the adversary in social media, block/ghost/gaslight them, or log out.

We know how to avoid conflict. Avoiding conflict rarely improves conflict. Avoiding conflict rarely teaches anything useful for healthy and positive relationships.

The pods in which beautiful people talk on phones to other beautiful people.

Relationships and COVID 19

Social connection is a basic need and social isolation hurts. When last I wrote about loneliness, it was considered safe and secure to meet in person and still loneliness was epidemic. Loneliness amplifies when being with people is risky.

Compounding that message, a lot of the online world profits from escalating conflict. Since popular culture and social media are everywhere, subvert them to your advantage.

Watch TV or read a book with attention to the script as well as to the story: Stories require conflict to be interesting. Watch for plot points that have the characters rub each other wrong. Now, have children rewrite the script so the characters get along.

Change the words, insights and expressions as many ways as possible so the characters don’t have the misunderstandings that create the action. That’s conflict prevention. Change the words, insights and expressions as many ways as possible so they don’t have the reactions that create the conflict. That’s conflict management. Change the words, insights and expressions as many ways as possible so that after they have the conflict, they talk about their misunderstandings and reactions. That’s conflict resolution.

Sociability and COVID 19

Sociability is an attribute of leadership, and an incentive for people to work out their disagreements. Instead of Gen COVID experiencing face-to-face socializing, they share an almost global experience of reduced social contact (almost global because school and socializing are already impossible for some children, girls especially, because of natural disasters, poverty, discrimination, and other realities).

Listen with your heart, your ears, your eyes, and your mind: Children benefit from being sensitive to the subtle cues of sociability. They become ready to engage with healthy and positive real life conflicts when they are in tune with others.

Have the children make a list of all the ways our senses know how words and tone affect the listener. Make a list of how we ensure we are picking up all the cues to understand what is meant, as well as what is said. Match the lists to each other and give examples that show times you sensed the listener’s feelings and how you picked up the listener’s cues. Write stories about how this ability to pick up on cues changed your ideas, or improved the relationship, or enhanced your conflict competency.

Identity and COVID 19

Feeling safe and secure is foundational to perspective taking, to being able to see other people’s points of view while not losing your sense of self. Safety and security are elusive when children are afraid to play with others, overhear their caregivers’ worry, face ongoing indebtedness, and wonder what jobs will be left for them.

Children who are secure can appreciate healthy and positive real life conflict. Have the children make two columns on a sheet of paper and head the two columns with these titles Imagine yourself calm and happy and Imagine yourself upset and stressed.

Imagine yourself calm and happy: In this column, list the conflict competencies you use well to manage conversations and interactions and yourself. Write an example of each skill, giving a time that you accessed that skill when you were calm. Those are the conflict competencies you have that are still available to you when you are upset.

Imagine yourself upset and stressed: In this column, list the conflict competencies you would like to access so that you manage the conflict competently and feel good about how you manage yourself. List the obstacles that prevent you from accessing that skill to use it when you need it. Write stories about how you will react when upset and stressed by drawing upon a skill you know you are able to use when you are calm and happy.

Conflicts and COVID 19

It’s inevitable a Gen COVID will have conflict. We all do. Where are the opportunities for children to rehearse so they are ready for their real life conflicts?

It will be decades before we know the impacts on youths who, but for COVID 19, would be in school, planning summer vacation, interviewing for work, volunteering, building their résumés, finding partners, and becoming conflict competent. Resilience during times of uncertainty is a conflict skill.

Cut off from face-to-face introductions, the contestants in Love is Blind adapted.
It gives me hope the kids will eventually be alright.

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