Let’s face it: Kids have diverse opinions and they’re bound to disagree with one another. Today arguments occur not only in the hallway or classroom, but online as well. And whether or not these conflicts escalate can depend on how well students recognize and manage their emotions.

There are many ways to help build self-control in the face of rising frustration, whether students turn to meditation or build constructed arguments on the fly. Since we live in a democracy that values passionate and polarizing views — especially in our educational systems — it’s all the more important to know how to help kids manage their feelings responsibly.   

Here are some tips and tools for seamlessly integrating self-control and life-skills-building into the classroom.

Mars Gen OneMars Gen One: Argubot Academy

One way to promote healthy debate is by showing students that good arguments are based on thorough preparation. This game lets students select claims and evidence to become more persuasive. Once they learn the art of the argument, students can debate some tough topics online or in class. By practicing the game’s techniques, students will be ready for that next conflict with facts, and not have to resort to underhanded tactics or name-calling.

ListenwiseListenwise

A website filled with podcasts covering current events, Listenwise is a good platform for students to practice patience when confronted with controversial ideas or opposing views that appear in the news on topics like race, politics and religion. As students listen, they can describe and rank the strength of their emotions as the story progresses. Then, they can analyze how their reactions changed over time, reflect on how diverse opinions made them feel, and make a strategy for being mindful in the future.

TwitterTwitter

Twitter has been a go-to platform for teens and adults to air grievances, and the consequences can have a lasting impact on people’s digital footprints. Twitter is also a valuable communications tool that can be a great way to share ideas and engage in conversations. Kids need to understand the risks of social sharing and can be taught the importance of using the tool conscientiously by seeing some of the consequences of tweeting emotionally or impulsively. Students can tweet about a topic from class. But before it goes out into the world, they can write out how they think people will react to it.

Smiling MindSmiling Mind

Smiling Mind is an app that helps students practice meditation through breathing exercises and visualizations. Practicing some of these self-calming skills have been shown to help kids focus at school and at home. Smiling Mind can help kids learn lifelong skills to cope with stress and stay calm. Hopefully the next time they get into an argument, they’ll remember to just breathe.

This article’s content is an extension of the We All Teach SEL blog series from Common Sense Education. Check it out for a complete look at social and emotional learning in the classroom.

4 Tools To Help Kids Understand Conflict and Self-Control 20 March,2017MindShift

  • Hillary Clintub

    Conflict and self-control. Shouldn’t competition be in there somewhere, too? How do we teach kids to compete to win?

    • Amanda A

      How do we teach children to compete to win? We take both winning and competing out of the equation, and teach them to follow their passions and engage in activities for the joy rather than the “win”….then… they will always win.

      • Hillary Clintub

        Oh, yeah. I completely forgot about those coveted participation trophies. How silly of me.

  • Meg E.

    Self-control and self-regulation are important skills that can be easily forgotten when school curriculum is focused too heavily on standardized test scores (Duckworth, Quinn, & Tsukayama, 2012). Yet, researchers have repeatedly found that self-control and related skills in childhood are linked to future academic performance (Farrington et. al., 2012; Duckworth & Seligman, 2005; Fuhs et. al., 2014) and adult health outcomes (Moffitt et. al., 2011; Jones, Greenberg & Crowley, 2015). As Wagner points out in this post, self-control is also key for managing frustration and conflict (Lengua & Long, 2002).

    Barry and Haraway (2005) suggest some central elements to include when developing a strategy for improving self-control in children. These include having a clear operational definition that allows children to easily tell when the problem behavior is occurring, provides ways of measuring the behavior, and offers a clear replacement behavior. Also, keep track of the behavior via data recording so the child can self-monitor their behavior and progress. This often takes adult support at first, so help children acquire relevant skills through modeling, reinforcement, corrective feedback, and opportunities for practicing skills. Develop a clear and consistent contingency management plan for behavioral change that includes reflecting on the recorded data and adjusting the plan as needed. Lastly, encourage generalization of skills by using the intervention in different settings and fade out supports to maintain behavioral changes. These suggestions can certainly be applied when implementing the tools mentioned in this post. In fact, Wagner touches on some of these in the description of each tool.

    The main point of the first tool, Mars Gen One: Argubot Academy, is to give students the opportunity to practice argument and self-control skills. In order for such practice to be effective, however, it ought to be deliberate (Ericsson, 2006). Deliberate practice first requires a desire to improve, it involves active monitoring of performance, getting feedback (either from your-self or from a teacher), it is structured and organized to improve problem areas and it includes skills that might not be obviously related to the targeted task (Ericsson, 1993).

    The second tool, Listenwise, focuses primarily on the reflective aspect that Barry & Haraway and Ericisson emphasize. Wagner suggests using this tool in the context of self-evaluation and reflection, which is important for good practice technique and as an exercise in self-regulation.

    The fourth tool specifically targets self-control skills with a meditation intervention. Meditation and contemplation practices have become increasingly popular for improving health and behavior in children, with recent reviews finding promising results (Black, Millam, & Sussman, 2009; Shapiro et al., 2015; Wisner, Jones & Gwin, 2010).

    For policy makers interested in large-scale interventions, there are curricular programs designed to increase self-control, emotional skills, and other non-cognitive abilities. For example, the 4R’s program integrates social and emotional skill building with literature to improve both reading and social-emotional skills. This program has as been linked to lower student self-reports of hostile attribution bias, aggressive interpersonal negotiation strategies, and depression, as well as improved reports of student attention and socially competent behavior from teachers (Jones, Brown & Aber, 2011). Durlak and colleges (2011) recently did a meta-analysis of school-based universal SEL programs and found improvement across six categories, ranging from academic behavior to emotional distress. However, most of the research shows these types of curricular programs are most effective for at-risk students.

    Thanks again to Wagner for drawing attention to the importance of developing students’ self-control in school and also including such thoughtful and detailed suggestions on how to use each of the tools here!

  • Meg

    Thank you for drawing attention to the importance of developing students’ self-control in school and also including such thoughtful and detailed suggestions on how to use each of the tools! Self-control and self-regulation are important skills that can be easily forgotten when school curriculum is focused too heavily on standardized test scores (Duckworth, Quinn, & Tsukayama, 2012). Yet, researchers have repeatedly found that such non-cognitive skills in childhood are linked to future academic performance (Farrington et. al., 2012; Duckworth & Seligman, 2005; Fuhs et. al., 2014) and adult health outcomes (Moffitt et. al., 2011; Jones, Greenberg & Crowley, 2015). As Danny Wagner points out in this post, self-control is also key for managing frustration and conflict (Lengua & Long, 2002).

    Barry and Haraway (2005) suggest some central elements to include when developing a strategy for improving self-control in children. These include having a clear operational definition that allows children to easily tell when the problem behavior is occurring, provides ways of measuring the behavior, and offers a clear replacement behavior. Also, keep track of the behavior via data recording so the child can self-monitor their behavior and progress. This often takes adult support at first, so help children acquire relevant skills through modeling, reinforcement, corrective feedback, and opportunities for practicing skills. Develop a clear and consistent contingency management plan for behavioral change that includes reflecting on the recorded data and adjusting the plan as needed. Lastly, encourage generalization of skills by using the intervention in different settings and fade out supports to maintain behavioral changes. These suggestions can certainly be applied when implementing the tools mentioned in this post. In fact, Wagner touches on some of these in the description of each tool.

    The main point of the first tool, Mars Gen One: Argubot Academy, is to give students the opportunity to practice argument and self-control skills. In order for such practice to be effective, however, it ought to be deliberate (Ericsson, 2006). Deliberate practice first requires a desire to improve, it involves active monitoring of performance, getting feedback (either from your-self or from a teacher), it is structured and organized to improve problem areas and it includes skills that might not be obviously related to the targeted task (Ericsson, 1993).

    The second tool, Listenwise, focuses primarily on the reflective aspect that Barry & Haraway and Ericisson emphasize. Wagner suggests using this tool in the context of self-evaluation and reflection, which is important for good practice technique and as an exercise in self-regulation.

    The fourth tool specifically targets self-control skills with a meditation intervention. Meditation and contemplation practices have become increasingly popular for improving health and behavior in children, with recent reviews finding promising results (Black, Millam, & Sussman, 2009; Shapiro et al., 2015; Wisner, Jones & Gwin, 2010).

    For policy makers interested in large-scale interventions, there are curricular programs designed to increase self-control, emotional skills, and other non-cognitive abilities. For example, the 4R’s program integrates social and emotional skill building with literature to improve both reading and social-emotional skills. This program has as been linked to lower student self-reports of hostile attribution bias, aggressive interpersonal negotiation strategies, and depression, as well as improved reports of student attention and socially competent behavior from teachers (Jones, Brown & Aber, 2011). Durlak and colleges (2011) recently did a meta-analysis of school-based universal SEL programs and found improvement across six categories, ranging from academic behavior to emotional distress. However, most of the research shows these types of curricular programs are most effective for at-risk students.

  • Mary Grace

    Some of these tools to help kids improve self-control correspond very closely to several well tested interventions which aim to improve executive function. Self-control is one of the key components of executive function, which makes it possible for people to quell initial impulses and control our often imprudent initial responses to conflict (Diamond & Lee, 2011). Such ill-advised reactions to conflict that often manifest themselves in school-aged kids as schoolyard pushing or facebook slamming. The process of using executive function requires external actions as well as internal emotions (Baumeister, 2002) and so it makes sense that the tools outlined in this blogpost focus on both externally and internally oriented interventions such as the Smiling Mind app which implements external breathing patterns and internal mindfulness strategies. In fact, martial arts and mindfulness practices are one of the highly recommended ways to improve self-control and executive function (Diamond & Lee, 2011).

    Part of a breakdown in self-control could have to do with an overtaxing of working memory (Baumeister, 2002). Think about it, if nine things have already gone wrong in your day – your dog got sick, the other carpool mom bailed for after-school pickup, Cindy’s name was spelled wrong on her birthday cake – when someone confronts you with a statement or proposal that you totally disagree with, you might just lose all the self-control that you might have had if the other nine things hadn’t gone wrong that day. As a result of this, some interventions to increase self-control for kids are based on computer games that increase working memory capacity (Diamond & Lee, 2011). Such computer game interventions remind me of the Mars Gen One: Argubot Academy recommended in this blogpost. Although the game may not focus specifically on working memory it has similar elements such as practice for mentally taxing or stressful situations and learning to keep track of and more easily recall facts to explain your point of view.

    To finish up, I want to touch on why executive functioning and self-control are so important, and specifically so important in young, school-aged children. There are obvious social benefits to good self-control (you’ll make more friends if you don’t lose your mind every time someone disagrees with you). However, there are less obvious and drastic implications to low executive function in elementary school children. Children with low executive function between the ages of 3 and 11 often are less healthy, earn less and perpetrate more crimes at the age of 30 (Diamond & Lee, 2011). While that is pretty grim, there is a bright side! Interventions in school aged children have shown themselves to be really beneficial in improving executive functioning and self-control AND have lasting effects (Diamond & Lee, 2011). So pass around these interventions of mindfulness techniques like the ones from Smiling Mind and computer training programs like Mars Gen One.

  • australiaadmissionsguru

    Good Information Thanks for sharing

  • Listening to podcasts is one of my favorite ways to learn about differing opinions. Great suggestion.

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