Peace Building and Conflict Resolution in Preschool Children

By Vestal, Anita; Jones, Nancy Aaron | Journal of Research in Childhood Education, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Peace Building and Conflict Resolution in Preschool Children


Vestal, Anita, Jones, Nancy Aaron, Journal of Research in Childhood Education


Abstract. This study was designed to examine whether teacher training facilitates greater conflict resolution strategies and whether conflict resolution training leads to prosocial solutions by preschoolers who are at risk for conflict and violence in their environments. Head Start teachers were trained in a 40-hour college-level course. Teachers were instructed in the theory of conflict, conflict management, and socio-emotional development in addition to following a problem-solving curriculum with their preschool students. Sixty-four children were assessed at 4 and 5 years of age. Results showed that preschoolers of trained teachers had more skills in generating solutions to interpersonal problems. Furthermore, children of trained teachers relied on more relevant solutions and fewer forceful, and thus more prosocial, solutions to solve interpersonal problems. These findings will be discussed in a framework for teaching conflict resolution and social-emotional skills to preschool children.

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Children learn early in life how to negotiate with one another. Although conflict resolution programs are finding acceptance in grade schools, most programs in early care and education have not yet integrated peace-building strategies into their preschool setting (Durlak & Wells, 1997; Henrich, Brown, & Aber, 1999; Weissberg & Bell, 1997). While a growing body of literature on social and emotional learning points to the advantage of early exposure, empirical assessments of conflict resolution during preschool education are lacking. Moreover, assessments of children who are most at risk for experiencing greater conflict-ridden and violent environments are necessary because these environments have been shown to produce more dysfunctional social skills (Durlak & Wells, 1997; Henrich et al., 1999). One recent study demonstrated that preschool children of middle-income families benefited from conflict resolution training (Stevahn, Johnson, Johnson, Oberle, & Wahl, 2000). Thus, a study documenting the effectiveness of teaching conflict resolution skills to preschoolers in low-income and conflict-ridden environments is needed.

Conflict naturally occurs in human interaction (Simmel, 1950) and, if managed properly, can be a very constructive avenue for needed change (Coser, 1964). Unfortunately, conflict often causes emotional upset and challenges the communication capacity of most adults (Katz, 1985). Adults and children need to have a set of strategies that will enable them to manage situations and achieve their goals while helping others to achieve their goals as well. Being skilled in social problem solving provides children with a sense of mastery that is needed to cope with stressful life events. Moreover, researchers have linked impaired problem-solving in preschool children with a lack of social skills that undermines peer competence (Rudolph & Heller, 1997). In addition, possessing skills for solving problems and resolving conflict reduces the risk of adjustment difficulties in children, even children from low-income and troubled families (Goodman, Gravitt, & Kaslow, 1995).

Historically, theories and research have suggested (Buckley, 2000; Nicholls, 1978; Selman, 1980, 1981) that preschoolers would not be able to take the perspective of another within a conflict in order to come to a mutually satisfying outcome. More recent empirical investigations have challenged this view (Johnson & Johnson, 1996; Stevahn et al., 2000), however, arguing that young children can learn the foundational skills for solving conflicts. Such instruction is particularly important for Head Start families, because these families are likely to experience more conflict. A better understanding of the risks and protective factors affecting Head Start children is essential, considering that young children growing up in poverty are exposed to dramatic increases in the frequency, intensity, and severity of community and family violence (Durlak & Wells, 1997; Metropolitan Area Child Study Research Group, 2002). …

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