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Helping Children Learn to Manage Conflicts

Bradley Elementary School students embrace the message to ‘Stop, Breathe, Choose.’

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Like adults, children get angry sometimes – except they haven’t developed yet all the self-regulation and coping skills to deal with their raw emotions. Sudden outbursts can result from the slightest incident, from another child cutting in front of them in line at school, to being told at home to finish their homework before playing with their tablets.    

“It’s Stop Time” – a live, interactive Kaiser Permanente Southern California Educational Theatre production – shares a straightforward strategy to “Stop, Breathe, Choose” to help young children manage conflict, as well as increase empathy skills. The beneficial tool is needed now more than ever. Youth violence is a public health problem nationwide that negatively affects youth, families, and communities.

Interactive performance includes follow-up workshop

The engaging “It’s Stop Time” story involves four students – Diego, Nicole, Reggie, and Soledad – at Waldo Whistle Elementary School whose fighting on the playground lands them in detention, jeopardizing their opportunity to attend the popular annual talent show. Restricted to a magical room by a mysterious new teacher, Mr. C, the students must quickly figure out how to get along with each other – or risk remaining in detention forever.

Designed for students grades third through fifth, the 45-minute production uses sound and visual effects, humor, singing, and dancing to help emphasize the three-step method to cool down when feeling angry or stressed.

Later, students also participate in a follow-up workshop on a different day. Through discussion, drum circles, and journal writing, the workshop led by the supportive actor-educators reinforces the three-step strategy to managing conflict and expressing difficult emotions in a positive way. Posters featuring the same key words are also provided to post throughout the school to further encourage what the students learned.

Additionally, Educational Theatre offers a related presentation for parents/guardians, called “One Minute,” that teaches stress management skills. 

‘It was important to have this play’

During a recent “It’s Stop Time” performance at Bradley Elementary School in San Bernardino, the energetic audience quickly grasped the concept. Children shouted “Stop, Breathe, Choose” whenever the characters began fighting or needed reminding of what to do in a difficult situation.

“It was important for our school to have this play,” said fourth-grader Brandon Paez. “A lot of kids need this type of activity because some kids get mad and start fighting and they never stop.”

Children exposed to adverse childhood events (ACEs) – such as the death or incarceration of a parent, or being a victim of violence – may experience more difficulty with impulse control when faced with stressful situations.

“Toxic stress can harm a child’s developing brain and body,” said Mercie DiGangi, DO, a pediatrician and regional chair, Child Abuse Prevention Program, Kaiser Permanente Southern California. “Simple, practical mindfulness techniques like ‘Stop, Breathe, Choose’ can help children regulate their emotional states, focus attention, and build resiliency.”

Describing “It’s Stop Time” as one of the best theatrical performances she has seen, Amy Coker, principal, Bradley Elementary, said the production’s message continues to resonate on campus.

“The students have kept the three words on their minds and have applied them in their lives, especially here at school,” said Coker. “It is great to walk into a classroom and see the poster on the wall and students and staff referring to it when discussion arises.”

Third-grader Valerie De La Paz agreed: “Now we know how to control ourselves when we are mad. When you are frustrated and if a friend does something to you, don’t seek revenge – just ‘Stop, Breathe, Choose.’”

Educational Theatre is a free Kaiser Permanente Community Health program that helps K-12 students and their families in at-risk communities develop healthy, lifelong habits.

To learn more about Kaiser Permanente’s work in the community, please visit https://community.kp.org