Jesus calls us to be peacemakers, not peacekeepers who bury angry, lonely, or sad feelings. With tweens, you can begin in small ways to share the responsibility for peacemaking. Whenever a group begins or gathers anew, ask participants to help devise a short list of rules for behavior in the group. Rules need to be limited to those that will promote loving respect toward self and others. Post the list and refer to it as needed.
Another way of teaching the art of peacemaking is to allow generous time for participant-talk. Time for group members to sit together in a circle, tell stories, and discuss their interests and activities is not time wasted; it is time essential to faith formation. Tweens, even more than older youth and adults, need to talk out what they have experienced in order to find out how they feel about it and what they have learned from it.
Roleplay is another way of making peace. Roleplay is often shunned by adults who think it is "artificial," but it can be a great method for teaching ways to resolve conflict.
- Wait until community has begun to form before trying this method. Choose a dilemma that is typical one for this age group.
- Tell participants that the purpose of the roleplay is to find a solution to a problem. State the problem and keep returning to it as you have presented it.
- Invite participants to think of a way to solve the problem, then to volunteer to roleplay their solutions.
- Stop each role-play once a solution is found. If conflict arises,ask participants to talk about their feelings. If two group members cannot get around a stumbling block, ask others to roleplay a different solution.
- Discuss with the whole group, what solutions seemed to work best? Why? Be careful to affirm that different participants might prefer different approaches.
As an adult leader or mentor of tweens, your role is to help participants try to solve their "issues" on their own. Jump in to help only if you are really needed. Model and encourage using "I messages." Say "I feel angry when you all talk at the same time, " not "You make me angry when you all talk at once." If you have a problem with a participant's behavior, suggest that you have some ideas for a solution and ask if others have ideas. Discuss solutions together, appealing to young people's sense of self-esteem and fairness. Set a natural consequence for divisive acts and offer choices. For example, you might say, "We need a change here. You may either sit next to each other quietly and without touching each other, or you may move to other places around the table."What techniques do you find effective in managing conflict with young people?
Living the Good News is an online lectionary based curriculum. This article is derived from the teacher background materials for intermediate groups (grades 5-8).