Peace Talks in the Owl Class

Nick Pearl | Brevard, NC

“YOU GRABBED THAT FROM ME!” I heard my young student say. She was working with another student on a solar system puzzle, and had her eyes on the piece that would complete Saturn. Many preschool conflicts begin this way: a reaction to the perceived transgressions of another. “Perceived” is the key word. Our young community members, just like their elders in their community, have differing beliefs, strategies, personalities, and routines. And just like the elders in their community, these differences create the potential for conflict.

Seeing others as separate from themselves is a new ability for preschool age children. For three to six year olds, the development of empathy and compassion mark their steps from being a toddler to a child. Three and four year olds are learning that others are separate from them and empathy helps to define that distinction. For five and six year olds, learning that others have experiences and feelings (or that emotions even exist) begins to create a noticeable response within them, or they have feelings about others having feelings. “Peace Talks” help to facilitate this process of emotional growth using conflict as the catalyst.

In a preschool conflict, the child requires tools to identify their emotions, communicate those emotions to their peers, and then apologize as needed. The process requires mentors that can remain calm and indifferent to the behavior of the children, and in the classroom that role is filled by a teacher, an elder from the Monarch Class, or an elder in the classroom (such as a Kinder). (NOTE: This indifference is also why it is challenging to manage the conflict of our own children as we are often directly or indirectly involved with their conflict cycle).

The Peace Talk is the developmentally appropriate version of the V. O. M. P. (Voice feelings or vent about the experience, Own your part of the conflict, Make their experience your own, then formulate a Plan) method of conflict resolution. For those in our community who are just learning empathy and compassion, the process of voicing feelings, apologizing, and hearing their actions had an effect on others affords the youngsters the tools to practice compassion until they are cognitively capable of being compassionate when they are closer to six.

Our script for a Peace Talk:

The “hurt” child: I feel [emotion] (sad, angry, frustrated, etc.) that you [action] (took my toy, hit me, said I couldn’t play with you).

The “active” child: I’m sorry I [action].

The “hurt” child: Please don’t do that again.

The “active” child: I’ll work on it.

It is common for the child to say the problem (“They took my block!”) instead of identifying the emotion that the problem caused (“I feel sad that they took my block!”). The mentor’s role is to hold the child accountable to the format so that emotional awareness is gained by the “hurt” child, and empathy is gained by the “active” child.

There are two goals of the Peace Talk process. The first to afford the opportunity for the child building empathy and developing compassion the insight that their actions can cause emotions in others and for each person involved to gain emotional awareness. Tina, lead Owl teacher, and I often see that as their compassion emerges, so does the child’s desire to create a plan to preserve their relationships. Practicing these basics of engaging conflict allows the child’s confidence in conflict resolution and problem solving to grow.

At this point in the year, as children enter conflict, it takes a minimal nudge (such as eye contact from a peer or teacher) for them to alter their words:“I am sad and angry that you grabbed that piece from me,” “I’m sorry, I won’t do that again.” the other will say. The “Peace Talk” format has become a natural part of the children’s vernacular. The practice is paying off.

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