Conflict -- from issues of sharing toys to disagreements about rules with parents to arguments with classmates -- has a real impact on the lives of children. Children can explore the meaning of the word "conflict" as a group (i.e. a class in school), with their family, or in a mixed group of old and young. Everyone will have their own perspective on what conflict is and can bring their own experiences to the discussion. In an intergenerational group, older adults sharing personal conflict memories appropriate to the age of children can be very effective.
Beliefs and attitudes about conflict come from many sources: messages we get as children; behaviors modeled by parents, teachers, and friends; attitudes presented by the media; our own experiences with conflict. What do you think when you hear the word "conflict?"
Look up the definition of "conflict" in a dictionary. The word is derived from the Latin conflictus meaning "to strike together."
Write the word "conflict" on the board or in the center of a large sheet of paper. Draw a circle around it. Everyone can then brainstorm what conflict means to them. Try to elicit specific examples, memories, and personal stories about conflict. What kinds of conflicts have you been in? You can have a conflict within yourself, between two people, within a group, or between groups. Ask about conflicts with parents, teachers, friends, and even between countries.
For each conflict example, summarize it with a general word or phrase (e.g. wars, fights, rules, parents, bothers/sisters, friends, bullies) and write the words/phrases around the central circle. Draw lines from words/phrases to join them to the central "conflict" circle. When possible, put words that are related close to each other.
You can then branch out from the words/phrases by drawing lines and writing down specifics. For example, from "brothers/sisters" there could be lines going to "using toys and games", "choosing TV shows", and "using the bathroom." From the word "fight" there might be lines to "hitting", "kicking", "biting", "pushing."
What do you see in the conflict web? What do conflicts have in common? What causes conflicts? What makes them worse? What can make them better?
Extension: Is conflict good or bad? The characters that make up the word "conflict" in Chinese mean "danger" and "opportunity." Conflict is like fire -- fire can help you cook and keep you warm, but if it gets out of control can damage and destroy. Discuss how conflict handled properly can have many benefits (e.g. learning about people, learning new ways to respond to problems, building closer relationships, learning more about ourselves).
Variation for Older Children: Write a letter to an alien describing a conflict on Earth. Assume the alien planet is peaceful and has never heard of or experienced conflict.