Kindergarten Conflict Delivers More Than One Life Lesson

Sometimes we don't all get along. A kindergarten lesson in conflict resolution.

Monday afternoon I received a jarring email from my daughter’s kindergarten teacher. At recess my daughter was being bothered by another student. (Annoying, but normal.) My daughter was upset and directed seriously hurtful words at the student. (NOT OK.)

Lately, we’ve noticed that our 5-year-old has been using sassy language and a demeaning tone at home. I figured she was picking up new words and phrases from the older kids on the school bus. And as soon as an unacceptable syllable left her mouth, I let her know that we do not talk like that in our family.  

Nevertheless, not only were the words my daughter said to her classmate a complete shock, they were also a wake-up call.

When my daughter got off the bus I asked her about her school day. She seemed her usual, upbeat self, proudly pulling worksheets she’d completed out of her backpack. I tried asking her if anything happened at recess and immediately she shut-down.

First she said she couldn’t remember. Then she said she didn’t want to talk about it. She ran off to her room crying.  I could hear her whimper that she was afraid I would be mad, that I wouldn’t like her anymore.

Of course I already knew what had happened, but I felt it was important for my daughter to be honest.

So I explained to my daughter that I am her mother and that I will always love her. I told her there was nothing she could say that would make me stop loving her. I kept repeating this to her and eventually she calmed down.

She told me the truth about what happened at recess that day. She understood that the words she used were bad. Awfully bad. Words that should never, ever be said to anyone. She said she was sorry.

I was relieved that my daughter was both honest and remorseful, but I knew that we needed to do something more.

So I asked her what she did at her old school when someone was bothering her. Immediately, I saw a light bulb go on. She told me if anyone was fighting, her 4k teacher had them go to the Tool Box to solve their problem. The Tool Box was filled with pictures of boys and girls doing things that could resolve conflicts. Things like taking turns with a toy or using manners.

I asked Jo if she would like to make her own Tools that she could bring to school. She sat on my lap while we brainstormed problem-solving ideas and typed them on the computer. We printed them out and she drew pictures to illustrate each solution. Then we slid her Tools into her folder and put it in her backpack. I suggested she pull out her Tools if she was having trouble with a classmate. They were ideas to help her solve problems.

Finally, I told my daughter that we all make mistakes sometimes. Getting along with other people isn’t easy. The important thing is to tell the truth and apologize. Then, we try to learn about what we did wrong and think about how we can do better next time.  

I suppose it’s true after all: 

All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten.

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Matt Schroeder October 11, 2011 at 05:41 PM
I had a preschool teacher (age 3) tell me once that she wasn't really focused on the notions of teaching colors, letters etc. It was part of each day, of course, but the teacher said her number one focus was conflict resolution. She was a great teacher, yet I can tell you as the young ones are now 6 and 7, that remains one of my biggest priorities. And it will continue, I'm sure.


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