How Will Children Learn to Deal with Conflict?

Mary Pickford in "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms" 1917

One of the many comments on the post "Answering the Socialization Question" raised by Steph C. warrants it's own post. Here's the issue that was raised:

Steph C asks: "Can anyone please address the concern that has been voiced to me by my father... that it is beneficial to remain in a bricks and mortar school because it promotes learning about how to deal with mean people who will be forever present in life, beyond the school environment?  Do the sheltered, home-schooled children learn how to skirt left-handed and under-handed social attacks, remarks, social power plays, and the maneuvering of cliches (cliques) of people against an individual?  These activities do repeat in the workplace and in other environments of adult life.

If the children are not provided with the examples and experiences that are given in the brick and mortar school social microcosm, then how do they develop coping techniques for their adult lives?  This is a concern of mine.  This is an aspect of socialization that has not been addressed on this page.  It has only been referred to as "negative socialization" without addressing the benefit of learning how to deal with it.

Any remarks?  Can someone please help me come to terms with this issue? Thank you for your help!"

Steph C raises an important question, and one that I have had asked of me, as a parent of homeschooled and virtual schooled children. In answering your question, first, I'll assume that you don't mean kids need to be bullied. I think that being bullied is never okay, and that's why schools work so hard to keep it from happening. All too often, people don't take bullying seriously until they see the impact it has on a child. I have heard from many parents who chose to homeschool or virtual school their children because of the effects bullying had on their kids’ self-esteem and academic performance. I found some interesting facts about bullying from the Web site, Stop Bullying Now:

  • As many as 160,000 students may stay home on any given day because they're afraid of being bullied (Pollack, 1998).
  • Children who are bullied are more likely than other children to have lower self-esteem; higher rates of depression, loneliness, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
  • Research suggests that adults who were bullied as children are more likely than their non-bullied peers to be depressed and have low self-esteem as adults.

So, I’m interpreting your question as, how can a child learn to deal with conflicts, such as peer pressure or challenges to their beliefs, in an environment other than a traditional school setting?

Regardless of where children are educated, I and the parents I know work to seek a careful balance between sheltering children so much that they aren't able to function well in society and throwing them into overly stressful situations just for the learning experience. For some families, that balance is found in a traditional classroom setting and for others it's found through homeschooling, virtual schooling, or even a combination of options.

I think this question is asked so often because most adults recall being with other kids in a school, since they rarely had any other option. Many of us often don’t consider the wide variety of situations that children learning outside a traditional classroom experience and how they may have even more opportunities to become well socialized than their bricks-and-mortar peers. Many parents I’ve met who educate their children in a home setting have pointed out that their children have opportunities to interact with a more diverse group of people than their bricks-and-mortar counterparts, who spend the day in a classroom with children only their same age.

I think about the many ways my own children built their social skills over the years through a wide range of personal interactions. Of course, their socialization didn’t happen on its own. Whether your children attend school in a traditional, home, or other environment, you (parents) are instrumental in providing them with opportunities for healthy social interaction. Below are some relationships where children have opportunities to develop their social interaction skills:

  • Immediate family members (living in the same house)
  • Relatives (blood related, godparents, or a fictive kinship)
  • A project partner (through a homeschool group, virtual school class or club, an organization, community activity or congregation)
  • A friend of your child
  • Casual acquaintances (such as a neighbor or your (the parent’s) friend)
  • New acquaintances / Strangers (Teach your child about safe strangers. Encourage your children to place their own orders at a restaurant or ask for information about a book at the library)
  • Authority figures (such as law enforcement and government officials, teachers and administrators, or clergy members)
  • Caretakers (including doctors, nurses and day care providers)
  • Group Interaction (with teammates, on school field trips, at community activities, or with members of a congregation)
  • Employer or Volunteer Coordinator

I encouraged my own children to interact with everyone on this list. You may choose to do that or not; you should encourage your children to interact with others as you, and your child, are comfortable.

When children interact with others it’s inevitable at some point they will face conflicts. It’s important for them to learn how to resolve them constructively. Observe your children’s interactions with your ears and eyes and note areas that may need to be worked on to improve their conflict resolution skills. As you read books, watch TV or listen to the news, think about how the people involved resolved conflict and discuss it with your children. Talk about what the individuals involved did right and what you might do differently.

The Web site Kidshealth.org gives great tips on teaching children how to resolve conflict. They even identify several things children learn when they engage with other kids (not necessarily in a school room) such as taking turns, playing fair, using words (instead of hitting), saying things nicely, apologizing, sharing and doing favors for others. It also gives examples of inappropriate conflict responses to watch out for, like when a child shows anger in a disagreement, gets bossy, treats others unkindly, or backs down instead of asking for what they need and want.

There are some relationships that children will not experience first hand until they are older, but they still can learn some of the skills necessary to deal with “adult” conflict now. Children learn many behaviors by watching you and others interact. If you set a good example, your children are likely to develop many of the same behaviors. And when you have a child with you for a larger percent of the day, the impact you have on modeling social skills will almost inevitably be greater. Adults can take action into their own hands, but children are dependent on adults for guidance. Helping children understand what appropriate boundaries look and feel like for each type of relationship they will experience is what will help them to know how to face problems in the future.

I have found that just because kids are educated in a home setting (either as homeschoolers or through a virtual school) it doesn't mean that they are sheltered from life's experiences. They just experience them from a slightly different perspective than their bricks-and-mortar classroom peers. With so many changes in where and how children can learn (such as virtual schools, homeschooling, classroom instruction combined with online learning, and so on), I think the future of children socializing in school will be different from what most of us experienced as kids, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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