This blog message was written by Astrid Cornelis (Thomas More, Belgium).
What if you put cameras on some preschoolers’ heads to record how conflicts unfold? That’s what researchers at The Ohio State University did (Myrtill et al., 2021). They investigated which teacher interventions are effective in a conflict among 3- to almost 5-year-olds.
Cameras on the heads of the preschoolers and the teacher
This innovative research method allows gaining insight into conflicts from the child’s perspective. The camera images provide an insight into the social world and the authentic experience of each toddler. In addition, the perspective of the classroom teacher was also registered and questioned. This shows that behind every teacher intervention is a complex decision-making process. Dealing with conflict is a difficult and not to be underestimated process that demands a lot of energy from teachers.
Of course, cameras see much more than the classroom teachers. The camera images showed that many conflicts are brief, but that they occur very frequently. Teachers intervened in less than half of the conflicts. Interventions were mainly made in the intense two-way conflicts.
How do teachers react to a conflict?
The researchers distinguish these three types of reactions:
- Interventions aimed at stopping the conflict: the conflict management is addressed externally – by the classroom teacher – through comments, warnings or references to the class rules, without specifically involving both parties and their points of view.
- Mediating interventions: here the children are given the opportunity to explain the underlying reason for the conflict, to come up with solutions themselves or to reach an agreement.
- No intervention: the teacher does not notice the conflict or lets it happen.
What works best?
Wanting to stop a conflict immediately turned out to be the most commonly used strategy, although it lead to the worst results. This strategy resulted in loss – loss solutions, separating children, taking away a toy… Perhaps strikingly – not intervening worked better than wanting the conflict to end immediately.
Mediation worked best. It is through mediation that children most often arrived at win-win solutions or mutual agreements. Mediation was better than not intervening.
Take away message: Consider a conflict as a learning opportunity
Conflicts provide opportunities for preschoolers to grow in perspective taking and social understanding. Children who can reach a supported solution to conflicts are better at forming and maintaining friendships. Conversely, children who cannot, show more undesirable behavior and difficulties with social relationships (Chen, 2003; Gower et al., 2014; Sebanc, 2003).
So, give each child the opportunity to explain the underlying reason for the conflict and support the children to come up with solutions themselves or reach an agreement.
- Chen, D. W. (2003). Preventing violence by promoting the development of competent conflict resolution skills: exploring roles and responsibilities. Early Childhood Education Journal, 30(4), 203-208. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1023379306124
- Gower, A., Lingras K., Mathieson L., Kawabata Y., Crick N. (2014). The role of preschool relational and physical aggression in the transition to kindergarten: Links with social-psychological adjustment. Early education and development 25 (5), 619-640. https://doi.org/10.1080/10409289.2014.844058
- Myrtil M.J., Lin T., Chen J., Purtell K.M., Justice L., Logan J., Hamilton H. (2021). Pros and (con)flict: Using head-mounted cameras to identify teachers’ roles in intervening in conflict among preschool children. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 55, 230-241. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2020.11.011
- Sebanc A. (2003). The friendship features of preschool children: links with prosocial behavior and aggression. Social Development, 12(2), 249-268. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9507.00232