Carey Goldstein discusses relational aggression, with “Rubber Meets the Road” interventions that you can use with your students to help them resolve conflicts in the Counselor Accents podcast.
Cultures of Dignity Director of Owning Up Programs, Carey Goldstein, was interviewed by the Counselor Accents podcast (a school counseling podcast for school counselors). In this episode, Carey discusses reframing the term relational aggression, how teachers can use students as their best resource, and a principles-based approach to Conflict Resolution – all through a lens of dignity.
What is Relational Aggression?
Relational aggression refers to harm within relationships that is caused by covert bullying or manipulative behavior.1,2 Examples include isolating a youth from his or her group of friends (social exclusion), threatening to stop talking to a friend (the ”silent treatment”), or spreading gossip and rumors by e-mail or social media.1,2
Why should we reframe it into Conflict Resolution?
While relational aggression can still be the root issue of a disagreement or negative emotional and social experience between kids, this tension is often due to young people not knowing how to react or respond to conflict. Teaching Conflict Resolution helps both sides of the relationship and empowers young people to handle a more diverse range of situations as they continue to develop.
At Cultures of Dignity, we believe that words and terms for young people’s behavior should have meaning — we try not to boil everything down to bullying as that may be a catch-all for behaviors that may not fit within the scope of Conflict Resolution. Looking at adolescent relationships and behavior through a lens of SEL helps adults understand that these skills need to be taught. If we can teach conflict resolution there is less opportunity for relational aggression, and young people learn strategies to confront these situations and work through them.
How does Dignity help us reframe relational aggression into Conflict Resolution?
The core of the Dignity Model (Dignity) is understanding that every person has inherent worth and deserves to be treated as such. Dignity is different from respect, which is earned through actions and traits. By teaching young people SEL and Dignity, we provide them a strong foundation to understand and practice Conflict Resolution. Additionally, Carey notes that many young folks start conflict because they feel socially unsafe. A shared language of Dignity helps students to open up about their situations and how they are impacted in their home, social, and school life, giving a new perspective to Conflict Resolution. Carey discusses how young people today approach conflict situations and how educators and parents can better understand what kids are going through and help guide them through the Conflict Resolution process.
Young people are likely to make mistakes when they are in conflict with their peers. As educators, we must help them understand the consequences of those mistakes. If kids feel pressured by adults to never make the wrong decision, they may stop coming forward or admitting mistakes, and miss opportunities for learning and growth. We also need to give parents grace — raising kids is hard, and no one is perfect all of the time. When parents approach their kids with dignity, many opportunities for learning open up. We need to engage our kids and include them when we build up their Conflict Resolution skills, and work with them to improve their relationship skills using a base of Dignity and social and emotional learning.
How does Conflict Resolution help kids in the future?
These issues are evergreen; but they may look slightly different in different generations. There is always conflict among young people, whether they interact in-person or virtually through social media — harmful rumors or negative comments about a friend that hurt their feelings can spread through a hand-written note or an exclusive group chat. We don’t always teach kids how to handle conflict, and adults don’t always handle conflict well. Young people, educators, and parents can benefit from collaborative social and emotional learning (SEL) programs to help kids learn how to handle conflict and build relationships. Even if these issues vary slightly between generations, kids can learn how to think about conflict resolution using a framework of Dignity and SEL, instead of what to think, and can see lasting benefits throughout their lives.
How can we empower our students and counselors at the same time?
The number one thing that educators can do is listen to their students — they are your best resource. Remember – treating kids as objects (i.e., telling them what to do and where to go for a fire drill) or recipients (i.e., teaching students in a math class a formula to memorize before a homework assignment) won’t be effective long-term for teaching something as complex and nuanced as Conflict Resolution. Kids should be considered as collaborators and stakeholders, participating early and often in real-life examples of situations that have a conflict that needs to be resolved from a place of Dignity. We are not asking teachers to give up their authority in the classroom, letting the kids run the show, but we need to work with the kids and guide them to make their own connections to learn Conflict Resolution techniques. Importantly – be open to listening, give grace where needed, and work with kids and families to build trust and rapport.
Teaching Conflict Resolution, using SEAL
Carey lays out the SEAL method in this episode – it includes four key actions that educators can teach to young people better understand and develop their Conflict Resolution Skills:
- Stop – is this the time and place for conflict? Ask the students involved to pause before bringing up the situation in question with the other parties involved — make sure the environment is a safe place where the two or more sides will be heard by each other.
- Explain what the exact situation is that’s making you upset. Help students with their self-reflection and communication skills in order to clearly define for themselves and others what the other parties did to make them feel the need to address the specific conflict.
- Acknowledge what you did and own up. Students need to understand their role in the conflict and their contributions to the situation. Students need to face what they did and effectively communicate that acknowledgment while addressing the conflict, whether intentional or unintentional.
- Lock In (or Lock Out) and take a break from the relationship after the Conflict Resolution. Let the words exchanged between the two or more parties in the conflict set in and gently pull away from friendships that aren’t healthy in the moment. Carey teaches students to treat friendships like “velcro” — they can come apart and stick together in different ways depending on how they get the two sides to interact.
While this SEAL method isn’t exhaustive and doesn’t cover all situations, it provides a clear, actionable way to help students understand the basics of Conflict Resolution. To learn more, listen to the episode below:
Listen to the podcast episode:
In this podcast Carey discusses how educators can learn more about Conflict Resolution for young people. Carey explores how counselors, teachers, administrators and parents can include students in the conversation about Conflict Resolution while teaching young people techniques that can help improve their relationships, academic performance, and long-term life and career outcomes.
In this episode you will learn that:
- Conflict with/between students is inevitable and they don’t always know how to handle it and/or how to recover from it. We need to teach them how to work through it and repair it if possible.
- Understanding the meaning of the words dignity and respect separates the actions of people from their inherent worth.
- If you can learn any part of Conflict Resolution (we use SEAL) you are making progress. It is not about perfection.
- Kids tend to act out or create conflict often because they feel socially unsafe.
- When talking to kids about Conflict Resolution, ask them to put it into their words. We can’t give them adult words and expect them to replicate that later on their own. What does it really look like in their world?
- Listen to young people, ask them questions and let them lead the conversation so we can support them in the way they need to be supported.
For a great resource(s) on learning how to help young people handle conflict see:
- Lesson Plans for Conflict Resolution, Dignity, and SEL: Owning Up online (Specifically – see sections on OU, SEAL, Lessons 8, 9, 18, 19 and 20)
- Webinar: SEL is Not a Program, it’s a Teachable Moment
- Webinar: How to support young people as they make and keep friendships
- Young, E., Nelson, D., Hottle, A., Warbuton, B., & Young, B. (2010). Relational Aggression Among Students — The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). School Psychologist.
- Young, E., Hottle, A., & Warbuton, B. (2010). Relational Aggression in Schools: Information for Eductators — National Association of School Psychologists. Helping Children at Home and School, III.