As much as we try to make the world a better place and be a sister to every Girl Scout, conflicts are bound to arise. As with any group of people with different personalities, interests, needs or wants there is going to be disagreements. It can be especially challenging with younger girls who are still learning what friendship means, or with girls of different age ranges in multi-level troops.
Like other challenges Girl Scouts face, we suggest you utilize conflict and disagreements as learning experiences! Understanding how to deal with conflict is just another tool that Girl Scouts should be equipped with. In fact, if you look closely enough at our Girl Scout Law you will find many of the skills needed to manage conflict!
Here are some tips for learning and dealing with conflict:
Set the stage: As we established earlier, conflict is going to happen whether we like it or not, so let’s prepare!
- Establish group rules- In order to talk about problems and conflicts, everyone needs to feel safe. Build a safe environment for learning and sharing by establishing group rules. To ensure group rules buy-in, create the rules as a group helping the girls define what a safe space means and looks like to them. After the group rules are decided, have the girls all sign in agreement. Save group rules for reference as needed. It may be helpful to remind girls of group rules in the beginning of meetings or have them posted for visibility.
- Examples of group rules could include “What we share within our group, stays within our group”, “No name calling”, “No talking while another person is talking”
- Consider including parents/caregivers in group rule process or establishing a separate set of rules with parents/caregivers.
- Designate a calm moment spot- There is a lot going on in our world and we don’t always know what circumstances the girls are facing. Something that may appear as a small disagreement could end up much bigger if a girl is already overwhelmed with feelings. With the girls, decide on a semi-private space where they can go when they need a moment to calm down or just need a minute alone. This spot should not be punitive (like being sent on “time-out”) but instead a space where a girl can take control of her feelings by gathering her thoughts in a peaceful spot.
Slow it down: Conflict can feel stressful and dangerous which can prevent us from responding in logical ways. Slowing down to take a breath and listen to everyone’s perspective can go a long way.
- Take a few deep breathes- When something stressful happens the limbic system of our brain takes over and equips our bodies with either a fight, flight, or freeze response. This response can prevent us from responding to conflict in a rational way. Let girls know that it is okay to have strong feelings with conflict, but also that they don’t always have to act on those feelings. Invite girls to stop and take 5-10 long slow breaths to work through those feelings. If we are able to slow down and calm our bodies we can usually approach the conflict in a more productive way.
- Share and Listen- Everyone involved in the conflict should have an opportunity to say what they think happened. Giving everyone the chance to share their perspective also prevents girls from interrupting to argue their own case and shifts the focus away from assigning blame. Reference group rules to keep the discussion respectful.
- Encourage I statements and practice them- Managing conflict is a learned skill and like any skill- it takes practice! Learning how to use I-statements helps girls learn how to express both the problem and their feelings about the conflict in a respectful way. Learn more about I-statements and how to implement them in your troop with this resource.
Girl Led Solution: Girl Scouts is all about empowering girls with tools to be leaders in the world. By teaching girls tools needed to resolve conflict you are also empowering them to self-regulate, be empathetic, and take responsibility for their actions.
- Check for understanding- After each girl was able to share her perspective, check everyone’s understanding by having girls summarize what the others said. Even if the girls do not agree with each other, it is important that they are listening enough to reflect back and validate others viewpoints.
- Find a solution- Encourage the girls to work together to decide on a solution that feels good for everyone. You can help them by asking “Do you have any ideas on how we can solve this problem?” or “How could we solve this problem in a way that would work for both of you?” As the adult, try to refrain from offering your own solutions in order to empower the girls to develop their problem-solving skills.
- Follow up- Part of conflict resolution is accountability. If the girls have agreed to a solution check in with them later to see if all members held up their end of the deal. Ask them what they learned from the conflict and how they could use what they learned in the future. If a girl is unhappy with the solution or maybe lack-of talk about it and brainstorm ideas on how to move forward.
Remember that everyone handles conflict differently and that includes YOU! Don’t expect yourself to always have the best response or that each conflict is going to have a solution. Managing conflict is hard and takes practice! Don’t hesitate to reach out for support! Here are a few additional resources that may be helpful:
- GSHPA Blog post for responding to challenging conversations
- Conflict resolution tips
- Guide to common situations encountered by Girl Scout leaders
If you have any helpful resources our advice send them our way or post them in the comments!