Conflict is a disagreement or a difference of opinion or interests between equals.
The people involved in a conflict may disagree vehemently and emotions may run high.
When conflict is badly managed, it may result in aggression. In a conflict, both parties have power to influence the situation. That is their goal.
Conflict may be an inevitable part of group dynamics, but bullying is not. In each, a different response is required.
When schools consider implementing a peer conflict resolution model, it is important to ensure that the selected model is not applied in bullying situations, and that it does not replace adult support.
Knowing how to resolve conflicts without resorting to aggression is an important skill for students and adults. Various models for conflict resolution in school environments exist. Peer mediation, and other methods are aimed at cultivating dialogue between the students involved in the conflict.
Unfortunately, these methods for conflict resolution are sometimes mistaken for bullying intervention strategies.
This can lead to damaging and even dangerous situations. Imagine, as a student who has been bullied, being required to face your tormentor to explain the impact of the bullying, then having to listen to the perspective of the tormentor. We would never expect this of an adult.
When the elements that characterize bullying are present in a situation where there is aggression, conflict resolution is not a recommended response.
Instead, adults need to ensure the safety of the student who is targeted and ensure that the student (or students) who has bullied, or encouraged the bullying, takes responsibility for his or her actions.
Characteristics of a bullying situation include:
- An imbalance of power;
- The intent to harm;
- Worsens with repetition over time;
- The distress of the child or teen being bullied, often including fear or terror;
- Enjoyment of the effects on the child or teen being bullied by the person (people) doing the bullying;
- The threat – implicit or explicit – of further aggression.
Strategies and Activities for the K-8 students:
- Develop students’ problem-solving skills:
- Read a book where bullying is a key element of the story. Assign small cooperative teams to brainstorm problem-solving options, and write alternative endings to the story.
- Ask for students’ help in generating and evaluating options for resolving challenging situations.
- Model appropriate problem-solving by ‘thinking out loud’ as you work through the steps to solve a problem with the class.
Promote healthy relationships between children:
- Brainstorm with students about qualities that make a good friend, and about ways of making and keeping friends.
- Have students create a bulletin board that displays words and/or pictures depicting friendship.
- Encourage students to explore issues of friendship in literature. Discuss the social skills that are involved.
Encourage safe reporting:
- Place a box or a container in the classroom. Ask students to contribute (anonymously) their concerns about bullying, including ideas for making their classroom a safe, strong and free place. As necessary, meet privately with students about their concerns.
- Hold weekly class meetings to discuss related issues that are of general interest.
- During meetings, ensure that students’ confidentiality is respected at all times.
- Demonstrate your commitment to listening to students and keeping them safe by implementing ideas generated by the class through the box or in class discussions.
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Claudio V. Cerullo, Ph.D. is the founder ofTeachAntiBullying.com and the creator of the new bullying software TAB 1.0 – Teach Anti-Bullying.
His educational leadership training in Diversity/Multi-Cultural Education is throughHarvardUniversity’s Graduate School of Education.
Dr. Cerullo’s focuses his efforts on addressing solutions to bullying across the country.
He is the author of six children’s books, two of which are on bullying, two educational videos on bullying, and one computer software application on bullying to be used in the classroom.
Dr. Cerullo resides in Delaware County, Pennsylvania and conducts Anti-Bullying workshops, presentations, and conferences to students, parents, teachers, and school districts throughout the nation in an effort to raise awareness on this ever-growing national crisis, as well as training schools on how to use the new TAB Anti Bullying Software.