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Conflict Resolution

HighScope Press Release

Contact: Carrie Hernandez
Director of Sales and Marketing
HighScope Educational Research Foundation
734.485.2000, Ext. 255
[email protected]

For Immediate Release

Preschoolers Not Too Young to Develop the Skills of Conflict Resolution,

Say HighScope Experts

Ypsilanti, MI — Recently, many elementary, middle, and high schools have established conflict resolution programs. These programs are often credited with reducing fights, bullying, and other forms of school violence by helping children and youth learn to settle disputes and conflicts through discussion and negotiation.

While these programs are certainly valuable, learning to resolve conflict can and should start even earlier than elementary school, according to early childhood education experts from HighScope Educational Research Foundation.

HighScope has developed a conflict resolution approach designed for young children aged 18 months to six years. The approach is based on six simple mediation steps that teachers use with children during emotionally charged conflict situations. The steps are: (1) Approach calmly, stopping any hurtful actions; (2) Acknowledge children's feelings; (3) Gather information; (4) Restate the problem; (5) Ask for ideas for solutions and choose one together; and (6) Be prepared to give follow-up support.

These problem-solving steps have been successfully used by teachers and caregivers working in preschools, Head Start programs, infant-toddler child care programs, nursery schools, and kindergartens. According to early childhood consultant Betsy Evans, who developed the steps for HighScope, the steps are effective with a wide range of children, including those enrolled in at-risk programs as well as those from privileged backgrounds.

The steps in conflict resolution with young children are not all that different from the steps used by adults to resolve disputes in labor relations, diplomacy, law, and education, Evans says. "We took what we knew about early childhood learning and integrated that with the practical steps that are widely used by adult mediators and negotiators," she explains. "The result is like a box of must-have tools—a set of strategies applicable to a wide range of trying situations faced by teachers and parents."

Evans believes adults often underestimate the capacity of young children to find solutions to their problems. "Emerging problem-solving abilities can be observed in children as young as 18 months," she says. "Young children are capable of quick, honest expressions of feeling, and with our support they can often come up with simple, creative solutions to problems."

Using the six mediation steps helps turns problems into opportunities, according to Evans. The process of resolving disputes helps children build problem-solving and social skills that they can rely on throughout their lives.

The six steps are used differently depending on the age and developmental levels of the children. With toddlers, the adult observes what is going on and provides much of the language describing both the problem and the solution. On the other hand, preschoolers having a dispute are often able to describe what the problem is and suggest solutions. By the time children reach elementary school, they are often able to serve as mediators for their classmates, once all the children have had experience with the process.

Children's participation and agreement with the process is important, even when children's language skills are limited. A young child may confirm that the adult is on the right track by nodding, answering yes/no questions, or pointing. As children mature, they are able to take over more and more of the process themselves, and eventually are able to do it independently.

HighScope Press offers several publications developed by Betsy Evans about conflict resolution with young children. Her most recent book, You're Not My Friend! Illustrated Answers to Questions About Young Children's Challenging Behaviors  provides a close-up look at 21 common child scenarios told in pictorial dialogues illustrated by Jonathan Wilcox.  Each scenario starts with a What If...? question (for example, What if one child bites another child?), followed by two sets of illustrated responses: one depicting a "typical" (more traditional) adult response; the other detailing a "problem-solving" approach based on a six-step mediation process. This six-step process is described in more detail in Evan's previous book You Can't Come to My Birthday Party! Conflict Resolution With Young Childrenwhich offers over 50 actual stories of adults and children resolving disputes. The stories are taken directly from transcripts of mediations with children. Two DVDs — Supporting Children in Resolving Conflicts (preschool level) and It's Mine! Responding to Problems and Conflicts (infant-toddler level) — show the process at work in preschools and child care centers. HighScope also offers professional development workshops that enable teachers to use the skills of conflict resolution with the preschool and infant-toddler age groups.

Evans says that although violence prevention is often the stated purpose of conflict resolution programs in schools, the reasons for teaching children these skills are actually much broader: "While many of our children are not at risk for violent behaviors, the majority are at risk for not reaching their full potentials as caring friends, loving spouses, supportive parents, and cooperative work colleagues," she says. "These programs not only help to prevent the spread of violent behaviors among children and youth but also encourage the development of essential social abilities that allow children to grow as productive, independent members of our society."

The HighScope Educational Research Foundation, an independent nonprofit research, development, training, and publishing organization located in Ypsilanti, Michigan, was founded in 1970. The Foundation's principal goals are to promote the learning and development of children worldwide from infancy through adolescence and to support and train educators and parents as they help children learn. In a HighScope program, students learn through active involvement with people, materials, events, and ideas.


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