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An Examination Of Conflict Management Techniques Used by Children

Kari Selisker

Volume 11, Number 1, 1998


Abstract
Violence is a pressing issue in American society. It can be seen on television, in video games, and within homes. It is also permeating schools. To deal with the violence issue, many school have instituted programs focused on improving conflict management and mediation. Brodzinsky et al. (1992) discovered four discrete coping behaviors used by children. He suggested that coping techniques selected vary by sex of child and the context of the event. This study expanded on Brodzinsky's work by examining boys' and girls' perceptions of their own conflict management styles when presented with hypothetical conflict scenarios. Using Brodzinsky's four categories (assistance seeking, cognitive behavioral problem solving, cognitive avoidance, and behavioral avoidance), this study revealed that children's perceived conflict management strategies in hypothetical situations vary with the context of the conflict event and the type of conflict, as well as with the sex of the respondent. Future research might examine several different conflicts at school and at home to look more specifically at the differences between boys and girls in those contexts.

 

Introduction
Although a great deal of research has been done in the areas of interpersonal conflict and conflict resolution, few studies exist regarding the role of sex in children's coping with conflict and the strategies they use to resolve conflict (Bryant, 1992; Peirce & Edwards, 1988).

Researchers also have not explained the sex differences observed in children pertaining to their conflict resolution strategies (Brodzinsky, et al., 1992; Bryant, 1992; Ohbuchi & Yamamoto, 1990). The argument as to whether individuals are simply biologically equipped with certain intuitions about resolving conflict, or are socialized through the media to handle conflict in a certain way, is apparent in the research (Peirce & Edwards, 1988). Many researchers maintain that sex differences in coping with conflict can be attributed either to situational factors or to the context in which the conflict occurs (Brodzinsky, et al., 1992; Ohbuchi & Yamamoto, 1990; Chusmir & Mills, 1989).

The study of conflict management is essential for creating educational programs for children. Developing effective and constructive ways to handle conflict is imperative for ensuring future social adjustment in children as they form relationships (Horowitz, et al., 1994; Johnson & Johnson, 1994). Constructive conflict resolution skills are particularly important during childhood and adolescence when peer relationships are a critical element in development. (Horowitz et al., 1994, p. 85). Researchers have suggested that a better understanding of the role sex plays in resolving conflict will lead to more effective programs and policies in schools with regard to educating, preparing, and training for conflict resolution (Stamato, 1992). Stamato's findings "confirm the validity of examining the 'gender factor' to understand its role and contextual relevance in negotiating, disputing, and resolving conflict" (p. 375). Furthermore, Stamato her findings "[can] guide policy and practice for example, the design of forums that take account of what changes in policy and practice may be in order and also what education, preparation, and training may be indicated" (p. 376).

Much of the research on conflict resolution arose in response to the increasing violence in American schools and provides support for programs that try to minimize that violence. The evidence is overwhelmingly apparent that children can be taught skills to settle their disputes constructively (Araki & Takeshita, 1991; Carlsson-Paige & Levin, 1993; Acikgoz et al., 1994; Johnson & Johnson, 1994; Stomfay-Stiz, 1994). For example, in a school utilizing peer mediation and conflict management training, a decrease in behavior problems in the classroom, on the playground, and in referrals to the principal was observed (Messing, 1992). Furthermore, "when conflict management is learned and practiced at school by student mediators, these children do appear to transfer the skills they use at school to the home setting for application during conflicts with family members (Gentry & Benenson, 1992, p. 108).

Conflict is defined as 'interaction between persons expressing opposing interests, views, or opinions (Cahn, 1990, p. 383). This study focused on children's perceptions of their conflict management styles. This study did not attempt to examine the resolution of conflict or determine which outcomes would be most desirable. Therefore, conflict management was defined as the styles or skills children perceive themselves to exhibit in a hypothetical conflict. In other words, conflict management refers to the different ways children deal with conflict in hypothetical situations.

Gender and sex have been used interchangeably in research. The merit of doing so has been questioned (Sellnow & Rhodes, 1996). In this study, the term sex was used only with reference to the biological male and female. The study only examined differences in boys' and girls' conflict resolution strategies and did not attempt to analyze gender as it pertains to individuals' masculine and feminine characteristics. Student is defined as a participant in the focus group.

 

Review of Literature
Two major themes pertinent to this study arose from the research. The first theme related to the contextual element as a variable in conflict management and strategies. The second theme addressed the types of coping behaviors or strategies children use when resolving conflict.

The Contextual Factor as a Variable in Conflict Management Strategies
Communication researchers have often erred with their use of the terms sex and gender. As a result, much of the research conclusions have been misleading with respect to perceived gender" differences. They typically tended to focus on the one variable of sex, without giving adequate consideration to the issue of gender and context (Brodzinsky et al., 1992; Stamato, 1992). Because there is no instrument that can effectively measure gender, the masculine and feminine characteristics of an individual, this study focused on looking at the differences between boys and girls.

Research has also perpetuated commonly held beliefs that women avoid conflict, whereas men confront it, and that men approach it competitively, while women do so cooperatively. These sweeping generalizations have made the study of conflict resolution strategies difficult and confusing. Although many studies conducted in the 1980s support the independent effect of "gender," which actually refers to sex, researchers have realized that there may be more variables for which there is no consideration in studies, other than sex.

Brodzinsky et al. (1992) and Stamato (1992) contend that perhaps the context of children's arguments may be a better predictor of behavior than sex. in other words, the situation in which a conflict is experienced is a more accurate predictor of the resolution technique than the sex of the individual involved. Hartup and Laursen (1993) extended context beyond just the physical setting to include such aspects as disputant's relationship strength, space, and resources available. Disagreements vary in their manifestations according to the settings in which they occur. Conflict management differs according to whether children are the same or opposite sex, friends or nonfriends, whether the disagreement concerns their relationship with one another or an extrinsic matter, and whether alternatives to disagreement are readily available (p. 44). Stated another way, the relationship of the disputants, their behavioral reputation, and their social status all work together to create a conflict schema which can affect the strategies children employ to resolve conflict.

 

Strategies in Conflict Management
Several researchers have examined children's responses to conflict (Peirce & Edwards, 1988; Ohbuchi & Yamamoto, 1990; Bryant, 1992; Brodzinsky et al., 1992; Horowik et al., 1994). Peirce and Edwards (1988) examined the stories created by children. They discovered that although children were given the freedom to create their own unique fantasy stories, they still stayed within the confines of traditional and stereotypical roles of males and females. We expected broader, more flexible ideas about the roles of men and women to be reflected in the stories children invent. Similarly, as the public has become more aware of violence as a social problem, we would hope to see children depict more creative means of resolving conflicts in their stories ( p. 395). The authors concluded the most important finding of the study is the willingness of children to bring stereotyped sex role portrayal to the characters of their own fantasy stories, even when given the freedom to write whatever they wished under the promise of anonymity (Pierce & Edwards, 1988, p. 403). The characters in the stories were typically sex-role stereotyped. In addition, the ways in which the characters resolved their conflicts differed among boy authors compared to girl authors. Boys wrote more about violent resolution strategies and were more varied in their occupations while girls wrote about conflict resolution strategies such as reasoning and analysis and were more typically portrayed in terms of occupation.

A Japanese study examined power strategies of children in conflict. Power strategies are the attempts used by the persons in conflict to exercise influence over the cognitive, affective, and behavioral process of the opponent (Ohbuchi & Yamamoto, 1990, p. 349). They cited other researchers' attempts to classify a potentially large number of power strategies into a small number of categories. A two-dimensional model was discussed, which included the elements of directness, the extent to which direct communication of goals is expressed, and, bilaterality, the extent to which one depends on the opponent. The feminine indirectness hypothesis was not supported in this study. Any interaction between gender and type of strategy was not significant (Ohbuchi & Yamamoto, 1990, p. 358). Although there were some differences noted, the researchers suggested it may be due to other situational factors. Of course, we do not say that there is no gender difference in the use of strategies, but we do suggest that it may depend on other situational factors and to the conceptualization of the strategies ( p. 358).

Social status also has been studied with respect to peers' perceptions of conflict resolution strategies. Three strategies for responding to conflict were examined 1) anger retaliation, 2) withdrawal/avoidance, and 3) calm discussion. Peers were more likely to view their socially preferred (popular) classmates using calm discussion. Conversely, rejected, neglected, and controversial classmates were viewed by peers to be more likely engaged in anger retaliation and withdrawal more than were popular classmates. These findings were the same for boys and girls and did not indicate a sex difference in peers' perceptions of conflict resolution strategies (Bryant, 1992),

Brodzinsky et al. (1992) found 44 coping behaviors used by children. He administered these coping behaviors to 498 children in the 6th and 8th grades. From the students' responses as to how often they used each coping behavior in their attempts to manage a self-identified stressor, Brodzinsky produced four discrete coping categories for children's coping behaviors. The categories are as follows: assistance-seeking (getting advice or help from someone), cognitive-behavioral problem solving (seeing the problem in a new way, trying to figure out a plan), cognitive avoidance (ignoring, moving on without reaction), and behavioral avoidance (wanting to be alone, feeling numb). Initial results indicated girls use assistance-seeking and cognitive-behavioral problem solving more than boys. This finding is consistent with previous research that identified girls as being more engaged in social support strategies.

Brodzinsky et al.'s study also revealed that children's coping strategies varied with context. Assistance-seeking and cognitive-behavioral problem solving were more often used context in response to peer and school problems. Cognitive avoidance was found to be used more often within the context of family conflicts. In reference to their findings, they (1992) stated:

Peer and school problems may evoke more primary coping (e.g., assistance seeking and cognitive-behavioral problem solving) because of children's perception that these types of stressors are directly controllable. In contrast, unfamiliar stressors and conflict with authority figures, including family members, may evoke more secondary coping strategies (e.g., cognitive avoidance) as a way of minimizing the distress associated with a problem that is appraised as less directly controllable. ( p. 207)

 

However, Brodzinsky et al. cautioned that the design of this study confounds the subjects and the stressor. They suggested that future research examine patterns of coping across different stressors or contexts within the same individual. A study on homeless adolescents' coping behaviors revealed that strategies used by homeless adolescents did not reflect similar coping strategies to their non-homeless counterparts (Horowitz et al., 1994). Whereas the most common coping strategies used by non-homeless adolescents were social support, optimistic appraisal, and distancing, many of the findings related to the unique situational factor of living on the streets. Under non-homeless circumstances, for example, distancing might not be considered an option for resolving conflict; however, in an inner-city street environment, avoiding confrontation may be the safest and wisest strategy.

All the studies seem to share one common element coping behaviors appear to be situationally defined rather than necessarily determined by an individual's sex. Future research must work to provide evidence that connects males and females and attribute differences to variables other than sex. This will ultimately affect environments other than schools and contribute to a better understanding of human communication.

This study examined intuitive coping behaviors and responses exhibited by boys and girls in 4th and 5th grades with regard to conflict management. The study participants had no theoretical basis or knowledge regarding conflict management, nor did they have any training in the area. Brodzinsky et al. (1992) identified four discrete coping behavior categories: assistance seeking, cognitive-behavioral problem solving, cognitive avoidance, and behavioral avoidance. Using these four categories as a reference, along with developed contextual scenarios, the research question guiding this study was "how do boys and girls differ in managing conflict?"

 

Method
Focus groups were chosen as the method for obtaining the data. Children in this age category have a wide range of reading and writing abilities. Therefore, it was determined that focus groups would likely yield more depth of responses than a questionnaire.

Three different conflict situations were composed. Each written conflict type was presented in three different contexts. One was peer-related in a school setting, one was sibling-related at a home setting, and the third was a conflict involving a boy-boy or girl-girl conflict and a boy-girl conflict. Parents were notified and given the opportunity to exclude their child from the focus group activities. After obtaining parental consent, each focus group met with the leader three times over three weeks.

There were three focus groups consisting of seven students each. The students ranged in age from 9-11 years old. The study was limited to this age group because data from the researcher's school show that this age group experiences many conflicts with peers during any given school year. Since the researcher is also an elementary teacher, it was decided the findings could help to benefit both the school and the students, as well as contribute to existing research on conflict management. One focus group was all male, one was all female, and one was mixed sex. The term leader was used to describe the researcher's role in facilitating the focus groups. The sessions were videotaped for later analysis of coping behaviors. In addition, the students were reminded of their anonymity in the final study.

In the first meeting, the leader began by introducing one conflict scenario. The participants were asked if they perceive the event as a conflict. Then they were asked to write their perceived response on a sheet of paper. After the students were given 3-5 minutes to do

so, each participant was asked to read aloud what he/she had written. Once all group

members had ample time to share, the topic was opened for the whole group to discuss. This method was chosen to equalize the amount of time given to high and low talkers and help to decrease any reticence. When the discussion had stopped with regard to the initial context and their perceived coping behaviors, students were asked to discuss their predicted

behaviors in another context using the same method as described above. After all discussion had been heard, the final issue involving sex makeup of the dyad was discussed in a similar manner.

The first focus group discussed one type of conflict in three different contexts. This same procedure took place at each of the three focus group meetings with only the type of conflict and its context being altered. The conflict scenarios were as follows.

 

Conflict Over A Possession
School context with a peer. You left your classroom to go to the restroom. When you returned, you noticed the items on your desk had been disturbed. You notice another student across the room is very busy playing with something familiar to you. You are sure they took something from your desk. What do you do?

Home context with a sibling. As you and your parent arrive home from the store, you notice your sibling out in the front yard playing with something that looks like yours. What do you do?

Heterogeneous/homogeneous conflict relationship. You came back from the school office and found a boy playing with your calculator....You come back from a dentist appointment and discovered the girl who sits by you using your markers. What do you do?

 

Conflict Due to Tormenting
School context with a peer. Everyday at recess a student from another class approaches you and makes fun of you, whether it be your clothes, hair, or something else. They continue on and won't leave you alone. You've told the principal, but she has not done anything yet. What do you do?

Home context with a sibling. Your sibling takes every opportunity to bug you whenever your parents are not around. This particular episode involves your sibling poking fun at your new shoes. The more upset you get, the more hysterical your sibling gets and laughs at you continuously. What do you do?

Heterogeneous/Homogeneous conflict relationship. There is a boy who lives near your house. Every time he sees you, he yells some mean name to you: things like four eyes, dummy, dork, etc. Today he yells, "Hey, is your name Ug? And your last name is Lee. So I can call you Ug-Lee!" What do you do? On your way to school, a girl approaches you and claims she knows you. You know you don't know her, and you kind of get the feeling she's trying to confuse you. Sure enough, when you've become frustrated with her, she makes some remark about your brain being damaged and your deformed" head. What do you do?

 

Conflict Over a Friend (Jealousy)
At school with a peer. You and your best friend always are together. You work together on class projects, you play together at recess, and you spend a lot of time together outside of school. One day, a new student comes to school, and your best friend is choosing to work with him/her. What do you do?

At home with a sibling. Your best friend always comes over and plays with you. Often your sibling joins in, and the three of you have great times. Lately your friend is calling and asking for your sibling, and the two of them are playing without you. What do you do?

Heterogeneous/ Homogeneous conflict relationship. You've always looked forward to your best friend's birthday party. It's always been a blast. Great snacks, fun games, and super favors. And to top it off, you always are asked to bring your sleeping bag to spend the night. This year it was announced to you that it will be a boy-girl party, and there's no talk about a sleeping bag. What would you do?

All the focus group meetings were videotaped. The videotapes were analyzed, and coping behaviors were categorized into each of Brodzinsky et al.'s categories of coping. The other assessment made was with regard to each individual's coping strategies throughout he different contexts.

Two independent coders were trained to analyze the focus groups. The coders were trained with a sample focus group videotape to improve intercoder reliability. When a discrepancy arose, they discussed the difference to reach agreement. When agreement was not reached, that coping skill was discarded from the results. The coders looked for themes that emerged regarding Brodzinsky et al.'s four categories. The responses of the groups were compared, and conclusions were drawn based on sex differences and contextual variances.

 

Limitations
This study was limited to the experiences of 4th and 5th grade students at an elementary school in Fargo, ND, during the 1996-97 school year. Thus, the study may not reflect the experiences and coping behaviors of students from other geographic locations or age levels. The study was also limited in participation since it was completely voluntary and, therefore, may not represent coping strategies of the general public. The researcher assumed that the students involved were unaware of the study's objective, which was to examine sex differences among boys and girls managing conflict in relation to the context of the conflict. It was a study based on perceptions, and the researcher had no way to determine the honesty of the participants. It must be assumed the students responded to the self-developed conflict scenarios as honestly and accurately as possible.

Hypothetical situations such as those posed in this self-report study cannot account for the emotional element during a real conflict situation. Thus, the responses may not truly reflect actual coping behaviors, but only coping behaviors anticipated by participation.

In focus groups, participants' willingness to share is essential. High talkers can dominate the discussion. To help equalize part of the discussion, the facilitator included writing time and allowed each participant to speak individually at the beginning of each session. However, this remained a limitation when the discussion turned to the whole group.

A limitation existed because of researcher bias. Because the researcher is a teacher, there may be tendencies toward certain responses and judgments about which coping strategies are more desirable. Also, the fact that the researcher/facilitator is known by the students involved (she teaches at the same school) may have influenced their responses.

 

Analysis
Three different types of conflicts were analyzed as they were dealt within different contexts. The problems or conflicts were either at home involving a sibling, at school involving a peer, or at school involving same sex and different sex relationships. Three groups consisting of either seven boys, seven girls, or a combination of the two listened to the conflict scenarios and responded as to how they would react. Each group met on three separate occasions over three weeks. During each meeting, a specific conflict was introduced. For example, the first meeting dealt with conflict over a material possession. That type of conflict was discussed in three separate contextual scenarios. Each of the three meetings was organized similarly with only the conflict type varying.

 

Conflict Over A Possession
In a rushed society of dual family incomes and extracurricular activities, more families are leaving children home in front of the television. Commercials are a large part of television viewing and contribute to a societal trend toward materialism (Mittal, 1994). Children are not immune to this desire for possessions. Thus, when confronted with a conflict over those possessions, children nearly always take action.

In conflicts over a material possession, there seemed to be no contextual factor in the all-girl group. Girls seemed to utilize two strategies in conflict management. Assistance seeking and cognitive-behavioral problem solving were used equally in all situations. Table 1 indicates that of the 82 total responses given by girls in four contexts, 47 were cognitive behavioral problem solving, and 35 were assistance seeking. I would first go over and make sure it's mine. If it is l would tell the teacher" and 'I would tell my mom and dad and they'll take care of it, were comments heard by girls in the all-girl group. Problem solving was another popular strategy employed by the all-girl group when markers were missing from their desk. The statements were "I'd tell them I need them for school" and I would tell them next time they should ask but you can use them now."

Table 1: Conflict Over a Possession: All-Girl Group

Assistance
Avoidance

Cog.-Beh. Seeking

Cognitive
Prob.Solv.

Behavioral
Avoidance

School

10

15

0

0

Home

8

10

0

0

Same Sex

10

12

0

0

Different Sex

7

10

0

0

 

Boys, on the other hand, overwhelmingly utilized cognitive-behavioral problem-solving when dealing with a conflict at home and when dealing with a person of the same or different sex regarding a personal possession (see Table 2). All 22 responses in the home context were cognitive-behavioral problem solving. Comments such as "I'd take it back and I'd tell them to give me it back were used. One boy even stated why he would not tell his parents. He stated, I never tell. They never do anything," Another boy added, 'Yeah, I'd probably get grounded.'

 

Table 2. Conflict Over a Possession: All-Boy Group

Assistance Seeking

Cog-Beh. Prob. Solv.

Cognitive Avoidance

Behavioral Avoidance

School

11

12

0

0

Home

0

22

0

0

Same Sex

0

23

0

0

Different Sex

0

19

0

0

 

At school, however, almost half of the responses given by boys (11 of 23) were assistance seeking. "I'd tell the teacher" and I'd ask for it back and if they didn't give it to me I'd tell the teacher" were some of the comments heard. According to Sadker and Sadker (1994), boys typically get more attention in the classroom. They also found that boys receive more praise and higher quality praise than their counterparts. Their findings may be applied to this particular situation and possibly expanded to include treatment in settling disputes. Boys may tell the teacher when they have a problem involving the loss of a material possession. The way in which teachers more favorably respond to boys may be the reason boys seek assistance more in school in this type of conflict event. They seem to seek assistance when the conflict is over a possession more so than when the conflict is more complex and relationship-based.

When boys utilized cognitive-behavioral problem solving at school and when dealing with a person of the opposite sex, the responses generally indicated controlled and polite behaviors. "I'd go over and ask for it back and I wouldn't say anything mean 'cause girls will tattle" were some comments heard. However, in the context of the home environment and when the relationship was same sex, the cognitive-behavioral problem solving strategy had a somewhat different. "I'd beat him up," "I'd push my sister and take it back," "I'd take it away and push her under the porch," and "I'd ask for it back and that would lead to a fight" were all responses. Violence was a common thread throughout all these remarks. Once again, it may be a reality to children that there is less chance for resolution by soliciting a parent's help at home and children resort to a more immediate strategy such as violent retaliation.

In the group comprised of both boys and girls, the respondents generally used assistance seeking and cognitive-behavioral problem solving (See Table 3). Twenty assistance seeking and 60 cognitive-behavioral problem solving responses emerged. Of these, 60 problem solving responses, only one was a violent plan. The comment was "I'd ask for it back and if he didn't give it to me I'd punch him." The data in the mixed group appear to be a true combination of the results from the all-girl and all-boy groups with mostly cognitive behavioral responses observed followed by assistance seeking as the strategies most used in conflict.

Table 3. Conflict Over a Possession: Mixed Group

Assistance Seeking

Cog.-Beh. Prob. Solv.

Cognitive Avoidance

Behavioral Avoidance

School

9

14

0

0

Home

5

14

1

0

Same Sex

4

14

0

0

Different Sex

2

18

0

0

 

In the mixed and all-girl groups, cognitive-behavioral problem solving strategies were most frequently used to manage conflict. Assistance seeking was a strategy often employed as well throughout the groups and in all contexts, except for boys when dealing with a conflict over a possession. The only variance from this was in the all-boy group. Assistance seeking was only utilized in the school context. Studies by Sadker and Sadker (1994) have shown that boys are treated more favorably in school. Also, children in this study expressed a sense of dissatisfaction with parental assistance at home. These two factors combined lead to the conclusion that school is a context where boys will utilize assistance seeking more when dealing with a conflict over a personal possession.

 

Conflict Over a Friend
In conflicts over a friend and dealing with issues of jealousy, generally both boys and girls utilized the problem solving strategy. There were 37 of 53 responses from the all-girl group (Table 4), 35 of 47 responses from the all-boy group (Table 5), and 34 of 45 responses from the mixed group (Table 6) that were problem solving. The responses from the latter group were more evenly distributed between problem solving and cognitive avoidance with 34 and 20 responses, respectively. However, the real difference lies within the goals of the children. Boys tended to question the situation and desired to move on. One boy said, "I'd push him and say, 'Why aren't you asking me to play?'" Another said, "I'd ask if all three could play and if they said no I'd play with a friend I barely ever play with." Girls, on the other hand, seemed to be concerned with maintaining the friendship and perhaps expanding it to include all three disputants. Many respondents said things like "I would ask if we could all play together" or "I would ask to be with them and to play with them too." One girl summed it up in her statement, "I would probably try to make friends with the new kid." 

Table 4. Conflict Over a Friend: All-Girl Group

Assistance Seeking

Cog.-Beh. Prob. Solv.

Cognitive Avoidance

Behavioral Avoidance

School

0

12

4

0

Home

4

14

1

0

Boy/Girl Rltshp.

0

11

6

1

 

Table 5. Conflict Over a Friend: All-Boy Group

Assistance-Seeking

Cog.-Beh. Prob. Solv.

Cognitive Avoidance

Behavioral Avoidance

School

0

12

3

2

Home

2

12

0

1

Boy/Girl Rltshp.

0

11

3

1

 

Table 6. Conflict Over a Friend: Mixed Group

Assistance-Seeking

Cog.-Beh. Prob. Solv.

Cognitive Avoidance

Behavioral Avoidance

School

0

11

7

0

Home

0

17

6

0

Boy/Girl Rltshp.

0

6

7

1

 

Assistance seeking was used the least at school among both boys and girls in the type of conflict involving jealousy. When children are in a dispute over a relationship, emotions are often intense. This high emotional factor may not be conducive to seeking assistance. The immediacy of the event may inhibit assistance seeking as a strategy.

The responses of children in the mixed group varied slightly from the all-girl and all-boy groups in the home context. Avoidance responses appeared six of 13 times in this context as opposed to one of 15 in the all-boy group and one of 19 times in the all-girl group. A variance in the mixed group was the lower frequency of problem solving and the lack of any responses of assistance seeking. Statements from the mixed group were "I'd let 'em play" and "I'd go find someone else." The individual members could have been concerned with the opposite sex and their opinions of their own responses. Sadker and Sadker (1994) discussed the issue of all-boy schools with some males and found that the boys admitted to saying "what you think the girl wants to hear." In their findings, a boy elaborated, "When I was 14, I hated going to school with girls. If I were trying to get a date with some girl in the class, I wouldn't feel free to say whatever I wanted" (p. 246). This could be at least a partial explanation for the mixed group's lack of confrontation and resolution in this conflict and context.

When children are involved in conflicts over a relationship, they tend to either take action, that is, to deal with it themselves, or to avoid the conflict. For example, comments were "I'd tell my brother or sister to get away from me. or 'I'd play with someone else." Based on this, most children, whether they are boys or girls, did not identify assistance seeking as a likely strategy choice at home.

 

Conflict Due to Tormenting
In conflicts due to tormenting, the all-girl group generally used assistance seeking and cognitive-behavioral problem solving in all contexts. Eighty-six of the 93 responses fell into these two categories as indicated in Table 7. The all-girl group utilized assistance seeking most at school and when dealing with a person of the opposite sex, with 26 responses of the 42 total school responses. One respondent stated, "I'd tell because you know, boys are kinda hard to handle. A small number of cognitive avoidance responses were observed (7 of 96). They made statements such as, "I would ignore the kid" or "I would tell them to buzz off." 

Table 7. Conflict Due to Tormenting: All-Girl Group

Assistance Seeking

Cog.-Beh. Prob. Solv.

Cognitive Avoidance

Behavioral Avoidance

School

14

14

2

0

Home

8

12

2

0

Same Sex

8

13

3

0

Different Sex

12

8

0

0

 

Boys were more likely to engage cognitive-behavioral problem solving strategies in all contexts. Fifty-six of the 96 responses fit into the problem solving category (Table 8). Boys talked of devising elaborate plans across all contexts to retaliate when faced with a bully, regardless of sex. At school and when dealing with other boys, their responses also tended to be more violent. Responses were "I'd punch him," "I'd push him down on the sidewalk and tell him I have a big brother that's coming, and he's gonna get him," "I'd beat him up after school," "I'd push him down to the ground very hard," and "I'd yell the same things back to him."

Table 8. Conflict Due to Tormenting: All-Boy Group

Assistance Seeking

Cog.-Beh. Prob. Solv.

Cognitive Avoidance

Behavioral Avoidance

School

3

15

0

0

Home

2

17

0

0

Same Sex

0

12

1

0

Different Sex

0

12

2

0

 

In the mixed group, responses were more varied and looked more similar to the a responses of the all-girl group. The school context revealed the most varied responses. Eight responses were assistance seeking. Statements made were "I'd go tell the teacher and tell a him to leave me alone" and "I'd tell the principal." Eight responses were problem solving and tended to produce comments such as "I would start doing that to them and punch them" or "I would ask if he would give it back." At school and dealing with teasing, three responses were cognitive avoidance. One student stated, "I'd try to avoid the student and if he/she always knows where I'm at, I'll tell the teacher." Two responses resembled behavioral avoidance (see Table 9). The comments were "I would just run home and lock myself in" and "I would go hide in the bathroom." At home, the responses were mostly problem solving as well as when the relationship of the conflict involved a person of the opposite sex (21 of 30). One student stated that he would just "...play along and bug her." Another respondent stated, "I'd hold back my madness and try not to get mad and they'd probably quit." It appears that, at home, children often feel less able to seek aid from an adult to mediate conflicts.

Table 9. Conflict Due to Tormenting: Mixed Group

Assistance Seeking

Cog.-Beh. Prob. Solv.

Cognitive Avoidance

Behavioral Avoidance

School

8

8

3

2

Home

4

12

2

0

Same Sex

4

4

4

0

Different Sex

5

9

0

0

 

When a tormenting event was identified, children employed the most varied set of responses. Assistance seeking and cognitive-behavioral problem solving were strategies Used frequently, followed by many cognitive avoidance techniques and some behavioral avoidance.

This study revealed some important results with regard to boys' and girls' perceptions of conflict management techniques. In a conflict over a possession, boys' responses were affected by context. Only at school did boys identify assistance seeking as a strategy used. Neither boys nor girls mentioned any avoiding strategies when managing a conflict over a material possession. When the conflict was over a friendship, both boys and girls perceived themselves to employ mostly problem-solving and avoiding techniques. Very little assistance seeking was perceived as a strategy by either boys or girls. It was only mentioned in the context of home when dealing with a sibling and a friend causing a jealousy. In those conflicts due to tormenting, boys' references to assistance seeking were less than girls'. Boys perceived more problem solving strategies and tended to be more violent. Girls seemed willing to avoid these tormenting situations more than boys both at school and home.

 

Conclusions, Implications, Suggestions

Conclusions
This study revealed that children's perceived approaches to conflict vary according to the conflict type as well as to the context of the conflict. Sex of the respondent was a noticeable factor in the conflict over a possession and the conflict due to teasing. Boys tended to perceive themselves as utilizing assistance seeking techniques only at school when dealing with a conflict over a possession. All other responses for this type of conflict were cognitive-behavioral problem solving, and no other assistance seeking strategies were mentioned in this kind of conflict. Research by Sadker and Sadker (1994) has shown that boys receive more attention from teachers than girls. With regard to certain conflict events, boys may also get more satisfaction with assistance seeking at school. Girls' perceptions of their management strategies suggest that avoidance techniques are not preferable in conflicts over possessions. In both home and school contexts, assistance seeking and cognitive-behavioral problem solving were the only strategies mentioned by girls in response to hypothetical conflicts over possessions.

In conflicts over a friend, no major difference was noted between boys and girls. Both boys and girls perceived their strategy usage to be more of cognitive-behavioral problem solving and cognitive avoidance. Assistance seeking was mentioned only a few times and only by boys and girls at home when dealing with a sibling. This may be due to the fact that among peers at school, children do not want to appear weak and seek assistance. This may seem to resemble tattling. Avoiding the conflict or taking other actions to manage it may be more preferable than being called a "tattle tale."

In conflicts involving tormenting, girls perceived themselves as seeking assistance more than boys both at school and at home. Boys' responses tended to be more violent, and many seemed to choose to handle teasing events by resorting to fighting tactics. For both boys and girls, assistance seeking was mentioned most often in a school context. This may be evidence that children are finding more success when seeking the assistance of an adult at school, because of educators' expertise, training, and experience in managing conflicts between bullies and other students.

The different findings of this study are consistent with research, but only to a certain extent. Research on children's conflict management techniques is still emerging. Most of the research has focused on adults. The research that has been done on children shows that girls engage more often in social support (assistance seeking) than boys. This study was consistent with that finding, but would offer that, in some conflict events at school, boys may seek assistance more than girls.

 

Implications
This study found that when children's material possessions were the source of conflict, children perceived themselves to be more involved in assistance seeking and cognitive behavioral problem solving. Specifically worthy of notice was the lack of boys' assistance seeking strategies at home. It seemed they felt nothing would be done at home if they sought help. The researcher questions why boys are apprehensive in getting adult assistance in the home context.

Teachers have been trained in conflict resolution and mediation programs. Students have been taught ways to better handle conflict events. It may be necessary to examine the parents' role in conflict management. It is possible that children are finding parents lack the skills to assist children, specifically their sons, and educational programs need to expand their focus to include parent seminars. Training sessions for parents, in addition to those for teachers and students, might be a way to achieve more effective adult assistance at home.

In conflicts at home, boys' responses were frequently cognitive-behavioral problem solving. Very little assistance seeking responses were found in boys at school and home as compared to girls (5 vs. 22). This is important because boys' problem solving responses were typically more violent than the girls' responses. If boys sought assistance first, they might avoid escalating conflicts at home. The socialization process, along with possible biological factors, must both be considered to understand boys' violent and aggressive behaviors. Researchers may never fully understand the magnitude of the socialization process. However, more educational research and training should be geared at parents and their role in conflict management.

 

Suggestions
While boys and girls do manage conflicts differently, the question of how strong a factor context is still remains. It is possible that teachers' continued training and on-going education regarding children and their conflict issues create an inequity between the home and school environment with regard to the qualities of adult assistance. This study raises several questions for future study regarding perceived conflict management: Are boys receiving more favorable assistance at school than at home when dealing with some conflicts? Are boys and girls more likely to take action with problems over a material possession versus a relationship? Are more conflicts de-escalated at school because of boys seeking assistance? Why do boys perceive themselves to manage conflicts with more violent behaviors? Why do both boys and girls avoid more relationship-based conflicts?

Future studies might investigate the possibilities of inequity between girls' and boys' assistance at school and further examine the differences between boys and girls throughout different conflict types. Future studies also might investigate further the possibilities of inequity between girls' and boys' assistance at school and further examine the differences between boys' and girls' in their conflict strategy usage throughout different conflict types.

Future researchers should continue to study the differences between boys' and girls' conflict management techniques in relation to the context of the conflict. The relationship between boys conflicting with boys and boys conflicting with girls and vice versa should be studied separately.

Based on this study, students utilize at home the skills they have learned at school concerning conflict management. Consequently, there should be more training available to parents on assisting their children in managing conflicts. Parents need to be able to carry through mediation and managing techniques at home.

This study examined the contextual differences between boys and girls within three different kinds of conflicts. The analysis revealed several operational implications for improving children's abilities to manage conflict effectively. Any research done on children's coping behaviors throughout different contexts will assist in the development of more effective educational programs in the schools and inevitably begin to include parents in the conflict management curriculum. Teaching kids to use a variety of strategies effectively and to choose appropriate strategies based on context was the goal of this research. The ultimate goal would be to create workshops for parents and kids, to heighten their awareness of appropriate strategies for conflicts, and to educate parents so that they can effectively assist in their children's conflicts. The challenge has been posed, but one question remains: Will we rise to meet society's call to educate parents and children on effective and appropriate conflict management strategies?

 

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