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[China, USA] Studies in Preschool Education: Communication Conflicts and Management in American and Chinese Children

Children’s communication conflicts and management are a common part of everyday work in preschools. Communication conflicts and the ways of handling these conflicts directly influence children’s societal development. Through a comparison of children’s communication conflicts and teachers’ conflict management in China and the U.S., we find that due to different cultures, customs and values, preschool teachers of the two countries use different methods to solve communication conflicts. Through the research we come to the following conclusion that in order to develop children’s ability to solve communication conflicts by themselves, preschool teachers should prepare children with communication skills and a sense of rules; at the same time, teachers should prepare children with self-control and self-adjustment. What’s more important, children should grow up through learning how to address their own conflicts.

conflict, conflicts management, comparison study

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Conflict is one way of preschool children's communication. Conflicts emerging during preschool children's communication develop the selection ability of social opinions and will promote the obtainment of essential skills for social communication. In fact, conflicts provide a situation to study how preschool children command social skills. They can establish their own conflict-solving styles gradually.

In early childhood, limited by cognition level and social communication ability, conflict-solving methods of preschool children are greatly affected by adults. As an instructor who is not a family member and someone who supervises the collective life of preschool children, the teacher's recognition of conflict and application of conflict management strategies will affect the way and ability of children's conflict resolution more directly. However, the teacher's recognition of conflict and application of conflict management strategies are also affected by many factors such as culture, tradition, value, social system and so on. The aim of this cross-cultural study of "Sino-American children's conflict solving" is to provide some reference for preschool teachers on conflict resolution skills by comparing the Chinese and American teachers' management ways of children's conflict and discussing the differences in teachers' strategies in different cultures.

Researchers of the Chinese and American children's conflict resolution study group conducted an interview survey in China and America in 2005. Using the same interview survey outline, the Chinese researchers recorded random interviews with 92 active preschool teachers from four cities (Beijing, Rizhao, Jinzhou and Chongqin), and in the U.S., researchers had 76 PAEYC members participate in a written survey. The interview included 7 problems that were mainly situations of preschool communication conflict, ways of children's conflict resolution, methods of teacher's management and so on. After re-recording the interview and written reports, coding, summarizing, categorizing, and computing the frequency, we compared the teachers' conflict management of the two countries.

1. Multiple comparisons of preschool children and teachers' conflict-solving in China and the U.S.

1) The same and different conflict solving ways of children in China and the U.S.

We compared the categorized common conflicts of children and found the conflict types of 2-7 years old children were similar. The 6 most common conflict types among Chinese children were: push and squeeze (22.7%), refuse to play with others (19.2%), destroy things (17.9%), beat and kick (17.2%), bite another person (12.4%) and use harmful language (10.6%); in the case of the American children, these were: push and squeeze (26.3%), refuse to play with others (24.3%), beat and kick (24.3%), use harmful language (20.2%), bite another person (14.8%) and destroy things (13.6%). The most common conflict types were pushing and squeezing and refusing to play with others, which together accounted for 41.9% in China, and 50.6% in the U.S.

The ranking shows that the Chinese children's conflict resolution methods in descending order are: tell teacher/go for help, self-negotiation, retreat/avoid/cry, apologize, make a concession), explain the reason, refuse to concede/retort, resolved by other children and so on; and for the American children: tell teacher/go for help, self-negotiation, beat/push/squeeze, talk, cry, harmful language/scream, leave, bite and so on. More than half of the children in both groups relied on the two most common ways of conflict resolution (China 51.8%, America 52.1%). From the above comparison, we can see most of the children chose comparatively peaceful ways to resolve conflict. By comparison, the American children are likely to adopt "violent" means.

2) The different conflict management of Chinese and American teachers

During the study of teachers' conflict management methods, we found significant individual differences and a trend toward diversification. The results and ranking that show the Chinese teachers' common management methods in descending order are: instruct/help children to solve conflict, educate the children, ask conflict cause, stop/separate the children, ask children to solve it by themselves, call children's attention to their conduct, criticize and admonish/state reasons, contact parents, individual instruction, wait and see, make children reflect /punish, understand children's conduct without blaming, decrease the likelihood of causing conflict, and so on. For the American teachers, these are: talk with the person who hurt others/destroyed things, give new instruction, caution child about language used, punish/ask the children to sit down, separate the children, discuss the conflict as a class, encourage children to solve it by themselves, help children to understand the other's feelings, console the hurt one, educate children on how to solve conflict, clarify the class rules, inform parents in writing or orally, and so on.

From the comparison of the Sino-American teachers' management methods, we see that during the intervention and management process, the Chinese teachers adopted more direct ways, such as helping children to resolve the conflict or educating the children. While the American teachers preferred to ask children to resolve it by themselves, give individual instruction, and pay attention to the emotion and change in feelings caused by the conflict.

3) The difference in the Chinese and American teachers' understanding of cultivating children's ability to solve problems

As for the necessary conflict resolution abilities which children need to cultivate, Chinese teachers listed: negotiation/communication ability, oral expression, modesty/forgiveness/friendliness/politeness, judging between right and wrong, problem-solving strategy, understanding rules, apologizing, social experience, sharing and cooperation, and so on; on the other hand, the American teachers listed: oral expression/communication skills, empathy/perceptiveness, self-confidence/self-esteem, problem-solving strategy, impulsiveness control, feeling of gratitude, self-regulation/self-control, negotiation skills, discerning and managing emotion, tolerance, and so on.

Teachers in both countries think that solving conflict requires multiple abilities, including expression, contact, communication, negotiation, strategy and so on. But analyzing the detailed abilities listed by the two countries' teachers, there are differences. The Chinese teachers stressed more the training of moral qualities and pro-social behavior such as modesty, forgiveness, friendliness, politeness, judging between right and wrong, sharing and cooperation, and so on; the American teachers focused on the training of self-management skills, and stressed avoiding conflicts by cultivating children's self-confidence and self-esteem, regulation and control of emotion and behavior.

4) The differences in Chinese and American teachers' lessons related to conflict

The survey entitled "What kind of lessons are given to improve children's conflict resolution ability?" shows the differences in approaches of Chinese and American teachers. The Chinese kindergarten focuses on training children's communication skills and observing rules, for example, learning through osmosis when playing area games/cooperation games while learning civics, health, physical education, music, or art; learning cooperation, negotiation, give-and-take, waiting, making friends and so forth through stories, children's songs, books, talking/discussion, situation performance/role plays and so on. Only a few teachers mentioned they teach children emotional expression and control. In contrast, the American study showed that the teachers focused on training children's communication skills and self-management. As for communication skills, they conducted games that required cooperation, read children's literature about politeness and friendship, had activities between peers and parent-child, shared experiences, engaged in role-playing, exchange-games and so on; in terms of self-management training, they read children's literature on affection and behavior, trained children's attention during group activities, conducted relaxation exercises, activity start/stop exercises, engaged in role-playing, rule drills and so on.

2. The difference between Chinese and American preschool teachers' conceptions and strategies on conflict from the perspective of different cultural backgrounds

From the above examination, we can see differences between the Chinese and American preschool teachers' management ways and understanding of conflict resolution. The author thinks the difference comes from the two countries' different social and cultural backgrounds including culture, tradition, ethics, morals, and so on.

Chinese culture has been influenced for thousands years by Confucian culture, and "benevolence, duty, courtesy, wisdom, trustworthiness" have become the particular cultural factors associated with Chinese culture. The people advocate the values like "harmony" and "peaceful coexistence," benevolence and kindness, order of old and young, politeness and modesty, honesty and sincerity in interpersonal relationships. Due to this kind of traditional culture, people usually have a negative view on conflict and quarrel. For instance, during the interviews some preschool teachers tended to define conflict among children as "bad behavior," and called the child who always had conflicts with peers a "problem child." So, with such values, teachers always stated that "eliminating" conflict or preventing conflict from arising was the most important objective of conflict management, and strengthening children's self and moral control as the basic strategy of behavior management. Therefore, in daily management, they focused on training children's moral qualities and pro-social behavior, and conducting multiple methods of conflict prevention education. Once a conflict happens, the teacher will directly intervene in the process of conflict resolution to promote a quick solution. The advantages of this management method are: the children will perform more pro-social behavior like kindness and modesty under the Confucian culture. When conflicts happen, most children will adopt comparatively peaceful ways of dealing with conflicts, with less violence, more quickly, and they will imitate the role of moderator that teachers play in conflict solving. The disadvantages are: the over-interference of teachers will weaken children's ability to solve conflicts by themselves, and cause more behavior like "appealing/seeking help".

America is a country of immigrants, whose culture is characterized by advocating individualism, pursuing egalitarianism, expressing individual character, valuing individual achievement, and so on. In daily life, the people value freedom, democracy, independence, and are full of the competitive spirit and challenge. Under the influence of a kind of cultural background, preschool teachers have a less negative view of children's conflict. Therefore, in terms of management style, American teachers tend to respect the child's individuality, allow children to express independence, and encourage children to resolve conflict by themselves. In the study, when asked "In what kind of situations do you let children resolve conflict by themselves?", 51.6% of the American teachers answered "let children solve by themselves," and 48.4% answered "let children resolve it by themselves in situations without physical violence." Consistent with the above conception and opinion, on the one hand, the American teachers focused on training children's self-management during conflict prevention education, and carried out special training to improve children's self-control and self-regulation abilities in daily management; on the other hand, they used some means such as conversation and empathy to moderate children's psychological stress caused by conflicts. Under the effect of such a management strategy, the children's ability to resolve conflict by themselves will grow strong with the age, but there is higher incidence of "violent" conflicts in the childhood stage.

Of course, besides the social and cultural factors such as culture, ethic, morality etc., the differences in the conception and strategy of preschool teachers in conflict management are also attributed to many other factors such as the cause, time, place, and extent of incident, age and ability of concerned persons, and so on. However, we can't deny the determinant effect of social culture factors.

3. Two implications of the comparative research

1) Recognize the value of conflict to children's growth

When managing and solving conflicts, pre-school teachers should not only see the negative effect of conflict, but also consider of its positive meaning. Although conflicts will cause psychological stress to both of the two persons, and some children may even show violent aggressive or regressive behavior, if we deal with the conflicts properly, then we can change the negative aspects to positive, and help children's psychological development. As Huaping Sun and Wenxin Zhang (1995) concluded, conflicts are helpful for children to understand "de-egocentricity," develop their personality and self-concept, deepen their understanding of each other and strengthen friendship. Because during the process of conflict-solving, in order to gain the opponents' acceptance or reach a satisfying solution, the child will learn to listen to others' advice, persuade or adopt others' opinions, adjust his or her language or behavior, and face and deal with conflicts. Just in such practices, children will gain experience in getting along with others gradually, learn social communication skills and develop the ability to make moral judgments.

Meanwhile, we should believe that children have the ability to resolve conflicts by themselves. During the interview, some Chinese teachers said directly, "Pre-school children do not have the abilities to resolve conflicts by themselves, so teachers must help them." During conflict management, teachers usually take the place of children in resolving conflicts, which implies that some pre-school teachers lack the recognition of children's ability to resolve conflicts. American psychologists D.F Hay and H.S. Rose (1982) conducted research with 21-month-old infants, and found that 79% of the conflicts that occurred in infants' games were ceased by children themselves. Shantz (1987) has drawn the same conclusion from research: without adult intervention, most of the school-aged children resolved conflicts by themselves. Therefore, pre-school teachers should change their conception of conflict management, and regard the educational value of children's conflicts from a positive view. As long as conditions are safe, we should encourage children to resolve conflicts by themselves, to let them gain experiences during the process of resolving conflicts and all of them to develop their abilities developed.

2) Try multiple ways to develop children's abilities to deal with and resolve conflicts

Rather than stopping or avoiding conflict, the object of conflict management is to let children acquire the strategies to deal with conflicts and learn to actively use proper ways to resolve conflicts, and develop children's abilities to deal with and resolve conflicts.

When conflicts occur during daily pre-school teaching, some children always tell teachers and turn to teachers for help, or stay away from or attack the other. Although telling teachers or turning to teachers for help can avoid the aggravation of conflicts, depending too much on others to solve conflicts cannot really promote the development of child socialization, and even that will cause negative effects. On the other hand, adopting the way of just staying away from or attacking the other will probably cause the aggravation and repetition of conflicts, which will lead to psychological problems and affect children's physical and mental health eventually. Based on this, as for the conflict management, pre-school teachers should give children instructions on the ways of dealing with conflict, and teach them how to resolve conflict using some curricula and activities to develop the abilities to resolve conflicts.

Teaching children self-control and self-regulation of emotion and behavior is also an effective way to develop children's abilities to deal with and solve conflicts. Actually the ability of self-control and self-regulation is the ability to avoid compulsion and violence by oneself. Research by Kopp (1982) showed that the infants showed self-control reactions during the second postnatal year, used external language for self-regulation when 3-4 years old, and switched to internal language at 6 years old. As such, during pre-school teaching, we have some special activities to help children develop inner control and regulation abilities, such as language self-regulation training (start/stop), satisfaction-delay training, learning to control and release anger, setting game rules and asking children to obey them, and so on. Especially for some children in preschools who always try to resolve conflicts with physical attack, we should strengthen the training of emotion-control and behavior-restraint.

In a word, dealing with children's conflicts accounts for a large part of pre-school teachers' daily work, so exploring an effective strategy of conflict management is an important task for every pre-school teacher.

1. Jinxia Zhao, Meifang Wang. The development and educational implication of the strategies of 4-6 years old children for resolving interpersonal problems. Studies in Preschool Education, 2006,(12):9~11.
2. Xiaolian Huang. The interpretation of the education strategies for attacking and attacked children. Studies in Preschool Education, 2006,(6):11~14.
3. Xingchun Xu. Strategies and skills for conflict among children. Studies in Preschool Education, 2006,(6):9~10.
4. Xiaoling Sun et al.. Discussion of children's interpersonal conflicts. Journal of Ningbo University (education and science), 2003,(2).
5. Huaping Sun, Wenxin Zhang. The conflict behaviors between children and the psychological value of it. Journal of Liaocheng Teachers College, 1995,(4).

Studies in Preschool Education, 2007.2

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