When it comes to social-emotional development, the schoolyard can be just as educational as the classroom. Recess helps kids learn how to make friends, take turns, resolve conflicts, and much more. However, parents sometimes have concerns about how much conflict on the playground is ok – when does it cross the line and require adult intervention? Here are 7 things parents should keep in mind to best support their child in navigating the playground.
- Playground conflict is inevitable & healthy. Argument and conflict are a natural part of coexistence on the playground – in fact, research shows that on average students will experience one conflict at recess every 3 minutes! Students argue over everyday things – who gets to use a toy, whose turn it is to go down the slide, who gets to be included in a game, or what the correct rules are. These sorts of everyday challenges are actually good for kids’ development as they teach conflict resolution and problem-solving skills. After all, you can’t learn to resolve a conflict if you never have one in the first place.
- The role of parents and teachers is to guide kids through conflicts, not solve problems for them. Conflict resolution is a skill that can be taught. At INT'L* we teach a variety of conflict resolution strategies, including mindfulness techniques to help students calm themselves down. We also encourage students to listen to the other’s viewpoint to think about the issue from another perspective. By learning these skills, students develop the agency to solve their own conflicts, and are able to find their own voice and stand up for themselves.
- Keep in mind that children have less ability to control their emotions than adults. Younger students (ages 3-5) especially struggle with emotional regulation, which can lead them to react in a physical way (pushing, hitting, etc.), and this is completely normal. Teachers and parents can help guide them to better control their emotions through mindfulness and conflict resolution techniques, and most students are able to have relatively good emotional control by Kindergarten.
- Navigating the playground helps kids develop resilience and empathy. By resolving conflicts, kids realize that they can face a challenge themselves, and that they can recover from a fight and still remain friends. Learning to be a good friend means learning the golden rule – that you should treat others with the same kindness and understanding that you would like to be given in return, and that you should think of an issue from the other’s perspective, instead of only your own.
- Students should always try to work out issues themselves before asking an adult. At INT'L* our teachers and staff encourage students to first address any disagreement they have amongst themselves. If after a while they still can’t resolve the disagreement, they can ask an adult to help walk them through the conflict resolution strategies. We strongly discourage students from “telling on” each other to adults, while also encouraging them to always seek help if needed.
- Parents should listen and support but not judge. When your child comes to you with a conflict he/she is having on the playground, the natural reaction is to automatically take your child’s side and criticize the child they are having an issue with. However, it is better to listen but not judge to help your child see both sides of a conflict, and to avoid criticizing their peers. After all, the child they are fighting with today might be their new best friend a week from now!
- Bullying is never ok. Conflict on the playground is inevitable, but if your child is consistently and repeatedly targeted by peers or a single child in particular, this can amount to bullying. Ask your child to talk about it more, and speak to your child’s teacher/recess supervisor if you are concerned or don’t have a good grasp of the situation.
*In 2020, the International School of the Peninsula (ISTP) formally changed its name to Silicon Valley International School (INT’L) to better reflect its bilingual programs, location, and international values.