Overcoming conflict in animal science programs

Teaching youth to respond to conflict in a positive way helps them develop life skills they will use throughout their life.

Conflict. Nobody ever wants to talk openly and honestly about conflict because in theory we should all just get along. As adults, however, we know that is not always true and to some degree, experiencing conflict can be a positive thing for children and youth. Youth development programs offer youth an opportunity to practice skills they will need as adults in a safe, caring, nurturing environment, so it is the perfect place to talk about how to handle conflict in an appropriate way.

Competitive events are likely the most intense, conflict-filled experiences for youth in animal science programs. When another person—the judge—is doling out their professional assessment of an animal or a youths’ ability to exhibit that animal, the environment is right for conflict to arise. Volunteers and parents, this is your opportunity to help youth learn how to deal with that conflict in a healthy, respectful and productive way. Michigan State University Extension suggests the following strategies that can help adults guide youth through conflict in a safe, healthy and productive way.

  • Model “feelings” vocabulary. Encouraging youth to name the feeling they are experiencing helps to understand what they are feeling. Identifying if they are sad, angry or frustrated will help them communicate through conflict.
  • Set boundaries. Adults must set healthy boundaries for youth to know it is OK to experience feelings of anger, sadness or frustration, but acting out by throwing things, yelling, name-calling or any other negative way of expressing those feelings is not an acceptable way of handling conflict.
  • Be a good role model. By modeling positive behaviors when conflict arises, adults are setting the stage for how they expect youth to handle conflict.
  • Encourage problem-solving. This is the time we encourage youth to come up with solutions to how they are going to deal with the conflict. To remedy and rectify the conflict, adults must guide youth through by asking open-ended questions. For example, “I understand you feel sad because your animal did not place where you thought it should. What can we do next time to reach your goal?” Remember that during the problem-solving, focus on what changes the youth can make. In a competitive situation, they cannot change the judge that day; they cannot change the other youth or animals that are also competing that day; there isn’t a do-over for the day. The only thing they can change are the things that are inside their control.

By helping youth navigate through conflict and learn appropriate conflict management skills, we are giving them important tools they will be able to use in the future. Albert Einstein once said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” Conflict can help us to grow, develop and become more self-aware in our environment.

To learn more about Michigan 4-H Animal Science Programs, please visit MSU Extension’s Animal Science page.

Did you find this article useful?