Whether it is not being able to play with their favourite toy because of a sibling, or witnessing parental conflict in the home, experiences of tension influence how children respond to conflict. As Charles R. Swindoll said, “Each day of your lives, we make deposits in the memory banks of our children.”
We live in a society where conflicts occur at various levels and in various forms. As society evolves, so does the way people interact with each other. Adults and children are often affected by disagreements in their interpersonal relationships. While parents may feel the need to shield their children from conflict, a more effective policy might be to teach children to deal with conflicts from a young age, so they are equipped with the skills and tools to deal with them in a more positive and respectful manner. Basic tools of conflict resolution can help empower children so that they can have the confidence to resolve problems and contribute towards promoting and building healthy civil societies.
As Mawlana Hazar Imam said during a speech at the University of Alberta on 9 June, 2009, “It seems to me to be the responsibility of educators everywhere to help develop ‘ethically literate’ people who can reason morally whenever they analyse and resolve problems, who see the world through the lens of ethics, who can articulate their moral reasoning clearly – even in a world of cultural and religious diversity – and have the courage to make tough choices. And it is clear that the quality of ethical leadership throughout society can in great measure be shaped by our educational institutions.”
There are many valuable lessons that can be learned from conflict resolution training, no matter your age. These include the ability to listen effectively, to be patient and calm, and to be neutral and non-judgmental. Such training also allows children to learn skills and tools in a way that promotes responsibility for their behaviour, and that underlines the importance of expressing their needs in a healthy way and of showing empathy and kindness to others. Some examples of conflict resolution skills that a child can learn include:
- How to cool off when upset.
- How to speak to an adult about their feelings.
- How to speak to each other respectfully.
- How to listen carefully to others.
- How to apologise.
- How to propose solutions to problems.
In 2014, the Aga Khan Conciliation and Arbitration Board for Portugal and ITREB Portugal organised a conflict resolution training program for children between the ages of 7 and 12 entitled the Small Mediators’ Programme. The programme intended to raise awareness among children about the importance of peace, of conflict resolution through mediation, and how the culture of resolving disputes amicably has been rooted in the ethics of our tariqah and history since the beginning of Islam. Children were given tools to resolve conflicts that might occur in certain settings, such as a playground, in order to better develop their listening, problem solving, and peace-keeping skills. They were taught these skills in an experiential game-based environment, which not only made it fun for them but ensured that the learning was properly integrated in a way that allowed them to use the skills in real life, outside the course.
The feedback from the parents demonstrated the immediate impact the program had on their daughters and sons: children appeared to be much calmer, and in the case of one child, his relationship with his older sister noticeably improved. Children shared that they learned several important lessons such as respecting differences and being respectfully tolerant of diversity, listening to opinions, apologising, and appreciating both the importance of mediation and the questions one must ask to mediate correctly. One of the children who attended the program even successfully mediated a minor conflict at home.
Teaching children how to resolve conflicts also has the added advantage of benefiting adult members of the Jamat. In the words of Laozi, “Wise men hear and see as little children do.” Adults learn so much from children every day, and by exposing them to these extra tools, they should be able to use them not only to help other children but also to enable themselves to serve as role models for their peers.
It is often said that children are our future, so let us ensure that we are making positive deposits into their memory banks, so that they can truly make the world a better place in which to live.
Rahim Aly is a Certified Mediation Trainer for the Aga Khan International Conciliation and Arbitration Board. He has more than 15 years of experience in the area of information technology.
Sheila Aly is a Certified Mediation Trainer for the Aga Khan International Conciliation and Arbitration Board. She is also a Barrister with a legal career spanning over 13 years along with serving as a coach and mentor in the United Kingdom.