Conflict Escalates

Resolving Conflict - Don't Laugh at MeDid you ever get into a discussion and before you know it, it becomes a full blown conflict? How about that trapped feeling when a conflict starts building beyond what you expected?

We have had plenty of both, even though, most of us, including our students, can predict when a conflict might escalate. The trick is recognizing what’s happening quickly and accurately enough to slow things down. Our Conflict Escalates lesson, the third in our Resolving Conflict Creatively theme, uses role playing so that students (and adults!) can observe conflict escalating in a controlled, non-threatening setting and then analyze the ways that each person in the conflict may contribute to the escalation.

Don’t worry, the next lesson in the theme walks through ways to slow that escalation down! We separate the two lessons because young people need to learn the signs that a conflict is really ramping up before they can apply the skill. If they don’t recognize the situation accurately, then knowing the de-escalation skills won’t help.

The steps of an escalator are a great metaphor for the steps in an escalating conflict and, as the lesson says, the escalator steps tend to go up faster than stairs. More than that, every behavior in a conflict is either a step up or a step down the conflict escalator. Behavior that makes the conflict worse will take it another step up the escalator. Of course, every step up the conflict escalator has feelings that go with it. As the conflict escalates, so do the feelings from, for example, irritation to anger to rage. And finally, the higher you go on the escalator, the harder it is to come down. (It is a lot easier to go down the up escalator from only the second or third step. Once you are up quite high, it is really hard to get back to the ground.)

This metaphor and the four characteristics above (and via this link to a power point presentation for a 7th grade advisory class on this topic) provide a good framework for de-briefing “The Backpack Conflict” role play in the lesson.

We also know that, sometime, there are underlying causes for conflict escalation. Two areas for exploration might be: how might the previous relationship between the two people in the role play affect the escalation of conflict? How might each person’s individual perspective contribute to the escalation? (Remember, the previous lesson in the theme was on perspective, so this is a good time to reinforce that learning.)

As always, we would love to learn more about how the lesson works in your setting. Please send us your stories and pictures (if you have parent permission!) to or post them on our Facebook page.








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