Four Solutions to Help Students Solve Conflict

Help Students Solve Conflicts
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This week, we’ve been trouble shooting whole-group classroom behaviors that drive us insane. In the first post of the week, I shared some solutions to make classroom transitions easier. I gave some ideas to work with talkative students in the second. Today, we’re tackling solutions to help students solve conflict and get along better.


Some years bless us with a classroom mix of challenging personalities. The tattling and the fussing make the most resilient in our ranks consider running for a private sector job. The hate rises to level expert regularly. No amount of distraction can stop the barrage of he looked out of his one eyeball at me or he’s writing with his pencil too loud or her nose is breathing funny. There aren’t enough Epsom salt baths or meditation crystals in the world to keep even balanced people in alignment when dealing with this crap.  That’s why we need some quick solutions to help students solve conflict.

Solution #1 Help Students Solve Conflict by Asking for Help

Reach out to your school counselor. This person is a wealth of knowledge about resources to help students solve conflict. Your counselor may also offer to take some of the children you consistently find in the middle of conflicts into a friendship group. Generally, the counselor will pick up your group during their lunch block and lead them through some steps to mitigate some of the conflict. He or she may find that certain students need one-on-one sessions.

Note: many districts require special interventions if bullying behaviors are part of conflicts in your classroom. For instance, if one student misuses power to repeatedly target another child physically, verbally, or socially in an ongoing fashion, you need to report the behavior to an administrator.

Often, parents and students will accuse a child of bullying even if the behavior is a one-time issue. A child saying something mean to another child once on the playground is not technically bullying. If a parent mentions the word “bullying” to you in any situation, however, you should share the parent’s concerns with an administrator or counselor. Let people with more letters after their names than you determine if a child is being bullied or not. Because the consequences of bullying can be so severe, this is too dangerous a topic for a teacher to handle without administrative support. 

Solution #2: Big or Small Problem?

When students are in the middle of a conflict that seems like a stupid waste of time inconsequential to you, it’s probably a big deal to them—especially if they are younger elementary students. Our counselors used a program called Kelso’s Choice to teach students to differentiate between a “big problem” and a “small problem” during their monthly lesson times with our classes. We even had posters with lists of big and small problems on our walls. Big problems were things like injuries, illnesses, physical fights, and dangerous situations. Small problems were your typical “she touched me with her mouth air” conflicts. Students were given lists of choices they could use to solve these problems. When kids tattled, we teachers were then able to help them determine the type of problem and a good solution. This really was effective. In fact, it was way more effective than our go-to phrase from back in the day, “If no one is bleeding, throwing up, or on fire, I don’t need to know about it.”  

Big Problems

Short of purchasing Kelso’s curriculum, you could meet with your class to list big and small problems they may face each day. Make sure to let them know that anything dangerous or potentially harmful is an automatic “big problem” and requires adult intervention. If a child is hurt or a kid shares information that reveals an unsafe situation at home or anywhere, this is a big problem. Any situation where a child or adult is having a mental health crisis is a big problem. Children may brainstorm other big problems we can’t list here, and that’s great. Luckily, though, most of the problems they share that seem big are really manageable when children are given the tools.

Small Problems

When you allow children time to brainstorm possible solutions to everyday issues they face, you are giving them some control. So many “small problem” classroom conflicts center around power and “pecking order.” When I used this method, I found that powerful kids learned that leadership doesn’t have to look like an “only the strong survive” free-for-all. The “low-key” kids realized that they don’t have to put up with being eaten alive every day. The kids in the middle stop having to mediate. Everyone has a better experience. The classroom vibe is chill. By giving all the kids tools to navigate conflict, you help your students solve conflicts by taking responsibility for their own minor issues before they become Def Con 1 emergencies.

Solution #3 The Bucket Fillers Program

The Bucket Fillers program was developed by Carol McCloud. She has written several books and has developed the ideas on the above website. These lessons help kids understand that filling another person’s heart and soul (bucket) with kindness actually adds to their own feelings of well-being. This is another way of teaching that cuts down on fussing and fighting in your classroom.

The website linked above has a wealth of lesson plans, bulletin board ideas, and other resources to help you change some negative relational programming some of your little friends may be bringing to school. Before you begin, you need a few books to share with your class. If you use my affiliate links below to purchase them, you won’t pay more, but I may make a small commission.

Bucket Fillers Book List

1. Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud

This book is for elementary aged students.

2. Fill a Bucket: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Young Children by Carol McCloud

Preschool and early elementary kids will relate to this book a little better.

3. Buckets, Dippers, and Lids: Secrets to Your Happiness by Carol McCloud

Once you’ve finished presenting the basics of the program with one of the two books above, you could add this one. It introduces the concept of the “lid” as a way to protect your own happiness.

 These three books will definitely get your started, and they are probably in your school or local library. The website has everything else you need to get your kids filling, instead of emptying, each other’s buckets each day.

Solution #4: Behavior Incentives to Help Students Solve Conflict

Behavior incentives encourage students to solve conflict in a productive manner so they can earn rewards. Bribes incentives work well to help you maintain peace and tranquility among your masses.

I wrote extensively about incentives here. If you have a reward system in place, use it to give students props when they solve conflicts well together. Whenever you see children applying the solutions you’ve taught them, make a big deal out of it. If you need behavior incentive coupons or class punch cards, check out my product here.  

Hopefully, these solutions will help your students solve conflict and get along better. We will continue to explore classroom management strategies in upcoming posts. These will include how to utilize calming centers and other strategies to help your students keep themselves together.

Before You Go…

Are you ready to take these strategies to the next level and explore some mindfulness with your students?

You may be interested in my Mindful Moment Writing Prompts.

Using these strategies may keep your classroom from resembling at category 5 hurricane, but late summer and early fall are prime times for a hurricane to head up the coast. Need to teach a weather unit? Need to prepare your students for some crazy weather? Here are a few products centering around my favorite twin characters, Tasha and Tio, that might help!

Four solutions to help students solve conflict
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