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Conflict happens! Let’s use it for good

By Karen Beranek

Have you ever seen a conflict between youth in your program? Of course you have!

You may have said, "You two are old enough, you need to figure it out." You may have avoided the conflict by walking right by and pretending you didn't hear it, thinking "It really isn’t that serious" or "They will work it out, they always do."

Conflict between youth is normal. As youth workers we can think of it as negative and avoid it. Or we can use it as a learning opportunity for the young people we work with. Here are some better responses: "Tell me what happened", "How did that make you feel?" "What would you like to see next?" "How can we make sure this doesn’t happen again?"

The ability to reframe conflict is a characteristic of a high-quality youth program. Learning to work with those who have different views is an essential life skill. In a youth program, there's a strong connection between positive social norms (including the ability to discuss varying viewpoints) and youth competencies. Let them practice and they will get better.

YouTube star Kid President agrees and gives his advice in this video.

How do you help youth navigate through a conflict without jumping in and fixing it for them? Here are some key behaviors for defusing and managing conflict:
  • Staff approach the situation calmly.

These next few concepts frame the conflict using a youth-centered approach:
  • Acknowledge people's feelings.
  • Ask them why it happened.
  • Encourage them to consider the effects of their actions.
  • Identify other possible solutions.

Take time to follow up with the young people involved. Ensure they agree on and understand the chosen solution. Check in later to see if the conflict has continued. Connecting with those involved may result in civil conversations rather than another conflict.

When have you taken the opportunity to reframe conflict for young people? Share a story where you experienced a positive outcome from your facilitating a conversation. Leave a note about something you wish you knew earlier in your career about using a youth-centered approach when faced with a conflict.

-- Karen Beranek, Extension educator

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.

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  1. It's always important to acknowledge everyone's feelings, whether or not you agree with them. 90% of the time, people (especially youth) just want to be heard. Once their feelings have been acknowledged as important, it is much easier to move forward!

    1. Spot on! The process of listening and acknowledging feelings, ideas, thoughts is crucial to the process of working together.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing, Karen! Always love a good Kid President video.

    1. Absolutely - I love his comment: we don't have to see eye to eye to work shoulder to shoulder!


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