Conflict Resolution Skill Building in Small Group Counseling

Conflict resolution is one of those non-negotiable topics for classroom guidance. It always pops up on teacher needs assessments, so it’s a high priority for programming. But sometimes classroom guidance lessons aren’t enough. Oftentimes, I found myself teaching basic steps to conflict resolution and finding that many students were lacking the foundational skills necessary for successful, peaceful conflict resolution.

Small Group

To better serve these students who were lacking foundational skills, I started a conflict resolution small group… but I didn’t talk about the actual conflict resolution until at least week 4. Why? Because we spent the first 4 weeks talking about the strong emotions we experience and how we recognize them in our bodies. Then we practiced strategies for calming our bodies and our minds so that we could enter into a conversation about a conflict with a calm demeanor rather than reacting in the moment. We even practiced listening and reflecting skills (this made my counselor heart so happy) so that students could learn how to listen and how to show people that they were listening.


Foundational Skills

Teaching students to share their feelings with one another is, of course, important for conflict resolution. But what about those students who don’t yet know how to even recognize their feelings? You see, I found myself teaching with the assumption that students were able to recognize and label their feelings, and for some students, this just wasn’t the case. Even though I had covered this in other classroom guidance lessons, several students were missing this important skill that would put them on the right foot for eventually resolving conflicts.

Feelings Recognition

These students who were struggling to understand their own feelings were often the same students who were reacting explosively and engaging in screaming matches when there was any type of conflict. They not only needed direct instruction on understanding their feelings but also desperately needed time to identify and develop calming strategies to use before engaging with others to discuss conflicts.

So, we worked on first recognizing facial expressions and naming emotions. Then, we talked about physiological clues that tell us we’re feeling a certain way. Helping students to recognize signs of anger or frustration in their bodies is incredibly empowering for students who have previously been unable to label these feelings!

recognize and identify emotions

Calming Strategies

Once students were well-versed in their own emotions, we talked about and practiced calming strategies they could use when experiencing strong emotions. We talked about how it’s perfectly okay to take some time to calm our bodies and minds before we address a conflict to prevent angry outbursts or harsh words we might regret later.

choose calming strategies

Expressing Emotions

Then, we talked about how to effectively express our emotions after we have 1) identified our own feelings and 2) taken time to calm our bodies and finds. We practice this with conflict scenarios and using the simple “I feel… when…” formula.

express feelings in appropriate ways

Listening and Reflecting

Other students were struggling to 1) listen to others when they shared their feelings and 2) understand what they could do with this information. The ability to empathize with others is integral to positive conflict resolution, and I knew I needed to directly teach these skills in a more focused program. So, we practiced intently focusing on other people’s “I feel…when…” statements with the intention of listening rather than replying. Then, we practiced reflecting those feelings back to the other person to show we were listening.

Conflict Resolution

Once these foundational skills were beginning to develop, we were able to begin the work of talking about healthy and unhealthy ways to respond to conflict. Students self-assessed to consider questions such as, “Do I avoid conflict altogether?” or “Do I react with yelling or name calling when there’s a conflict?” We looked at these unhealthy approaches and discussed healthier alternatives.

By the time we reached week 5 or 6, we were ready to finally start focusing on brainstorming and finding win-win solutions. It was amazing how easily this came to those students who now knew how to consider their own feelings, calm their bodies and minds, and then actually express those feelings in a calm way!


The group counseling setting is perfect for diving in deep to explore and develop those foundation skills necessary for successful conflict resolution. Targeted skill building is so necessary for these students who aren’t on a level playing field with their peers who are already able to recognize and express feelings in positive ways. How are you helping your students who are struggling to resolve conflicts positively? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section!

Happy Counseling! -Counselor Keri

teach foundational skills like emotion recognition, calming strategies, and empathy for successful conflict resolution in small group counseling. Conflict resolution small group counseling -counselor keri




3 thoughts on “Conflict Resolution Skill Building in Small Group Counseling

  1. I LOVE this curriculum. Looking forward to implementing it beginning next week. Thanks for all you do! You are such a lifesaver. Your groups and lessons are fantastic! HAPPY almost SCHOOL COUNSELING WEEK!


  2. This is great. Thank you, Keri. Also in a school-based therapy role and am always looking for more creative stuff to do! Our next topic is changing reputations (we use the PEERS curriculum) and regret fits right into that. Your blog is a good resource!

    What’s your age or age-range of students with whom you’re working?

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