When Children Disagree (or even fight) - What’s our role?

One of the differentiating and beautiful facets of Montessori education is its focus on preparing children for all of life - not just school. Along with the very impressive academic aspects of the system, the Montessori curriculum places an emphasis on conflict resolution and proactively helps children learn to navigate and resolve social situations. Perhaps you’re familiar with some of the Grace and Courtesy lessons we present to the children in the classrooms? These don’t prevent conflicts, but they do give the children the tools they need to effectively work through socially difficult situations.

When problems do arise with the children (which they undoubtedly will) in the classroom or on the playground, our goal is to help them learn to resolve these conflicts together in a peaceful manner. This is an invaluable skill that takes much practice to master (if that’s even possible) and will serve them well in all of life. Most of them can’t do this on their own yet, so it requires focused attention from the adults to work through each specific situation. We are fortunate to have a team of dedicated adults working with our children who are all very highly trained in observation and conflict resolution skills.

You most likely hear pieces of these conflicts from your children at home.

There are several things you can do to support your child(ren) in these situations:

Listen and validate their feelings, but don’t “play into” the drama. Often children simply need to feel heard and understood, so all you need to do is listen contently and reflect back to them how they’re feeling. You can say something like, “It sounds like it really hurt your feelings when Johnny didn’t want you to work with him.”. If they’re satisfied after just telling you how they feel, don’t pry or poke for more information. Let it be done and move on.

Remember that most of the time, you’re not getting the whole story. Children often recall and report things that are upsetting to them without taking into account all the details of the situation. Yes, Suzie was really angry when the other children wouldn’t let her join their game, but what she doesn’t tell you is that they wouldn’t let her play because she’d been pushing them repeatedly and refused to stop when they asked her to. What feels like a genuine injustice to her was actually an appropriate response.

Talk through situations with your child when it’s appropriate to do so (when simply listening isn’t enough), and offer tools/words that he can use to help him in the future. For example you can say, “Sally, I know how much you like to sit next to Tom at lunch, but when that spot’s not available maybe you could sit next to George or Susan?”. You can empower her by asking questions, rather than telling her what to do; “What do you think would be a good way to respond if Jordan says that again?”. It is also helpful to reassure him that he can handle future difficulties.

Remind your child that the teachers are here to help her. It sounds obvious to us, but sometimes children forget to come to us when they need assistance.