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Teaching Conflict Management Calls for Creative Approach

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Kids are playing. Shoppers are shopping. Parents are parenting. A situation escalates, voices get raised, discord arises, and an argument breaks out. Or worse. 

Conflict happens – anywhere, all the time. In and of itself, it’s a natural, creative part of life and learning.

But how we deal with conflict can seriously affect relationships – including those involving children. Still, teaching kids just how to manage conflict is a daunting and delicate undertaking.

Fortunately for some 300 third, fourth and fifth grade students at Baldwin Park’s De Anza Elementary School, Kaiser Permanente Southern California’s Educational Theatre is up to the task. Recently, Educational Theatre (ET) presented their integrated conflict management program to the students, along with numerous parents, teachers, school board members, and government officials.

And they did it without books, videos, brochures, lectures or even apps.

When is a lesson not a lesson? 

Educational Theatre, a Community Benefit health education program, uses  the performing arts to impart critical health care knowledge to young people. It’s no small undertaking, but they do it with theater, dance, song, and humor – enabling them to simplify complicated issues and communicate them in an engaging, approachable, memorable way.

The program at De Anza Elementary began with a performance of “It’s Stop Time.” The play uses some eye-popping animation and cool technical wizardry. It kicks off with an enormous, colorful container on stage, whose sides and roof suddenly drop and transform into the actors’ stage. The plot entails a playground fight that lands the characters in detention. In order to get out they must figure out how to get along.

“We’re teaching about self-efficacy,” explained Gerry Farrell, director, Educational Theatre. “There will always be conflict. How you manage it is the important thing. The actual issue may not even be resolved.”

“It’s Stop Time” was just the first component of this multi-faceted program. An interactive workshop followed, to reinforce the lessons on empathy, dealing with anger, and controlling volatile impulses.


Still, this event was far from over. On day two, ET performed “One Minute,” the companion workshop for parents. In it, participants become the studio audience at a mock, bilingual talk show where the characters learn to manage their stress in healthy ways. “One Minute” refers to one of the workshop’s key points: take one minute a day for yourself.

Both the adult and kids interactive workshops also encourage using the “Stop, Breathe, Choose” method to manage stress, make smart decisions, and prevent escalation.

Although most of Educational Theatre’s programs are geared towards children and adolescents, the adult component is crucial to the success of this program. “It’s like the oxygen instructions on an airplane,” explained Farrell. “You can’t help your children if you haven’t first helped yourself. Parents need to learn how to handle stressful situations in order for kids to do the same.” 

Champions for children’s mental health

The ambitious event was championed by Kaiser Permanente Baldwin Park, De Anza Principal Maria Rios and Representative Grace F. Napolitano (D-El Monte) in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month. Productive conflict management can defuse potentially violent situations and stave off mental health issues, including substance abuse, depression and even suicide.

Congresswoman Napolitano successfully legislated to institute a school-based youth suicide prevention program, which has become a model for similar programs across the country.

At the school, Representative Napolitano reminded the kids that, “If you or a classmate is struggling, speak up. Remember, it is always okay to ask for help.” She thanked the Baldwin Park Unified School District and Kaiser Permanente Baldwin Park for helping to “fight stigma and putting children’s mental health—an issue near and dear to my heart—at the forefront.”

Comprehensive programs that deal honestly with conflict management, like Educational Theatre’s, may help to keep families and their children safe and preserve their mental and emotional health. 

To learn more about Educational Theatre, visit: http://kpcar.es/sc3g

For more information on Community Benefit programs, go to: http://community.kp.org/