Education Adventures is a column written by educator Megan Hardy. Through the Outschool program, Megan teaches a series of Life Skills courses using fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. During the six week campaign, heroes head out to save the land from an evil ruler, facing challenges and battles and making friends along the way while learning logic and critical thinking. The campaign is designed specifically for children ages 9-14 and highlights problem solving, logic puzzles and team work while participating in a grand adventure. In the Education Adventures column, Megan shares insights and lessons she learns through teaching D&D for students and their experiences.
Conflict resolution between kids during D&D
Dungeons and Dragons can be an amazing way for kids to build friendships that are real and genuine. It can also create conflict. This is true for both adults and kids. However, this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. One of the great lessons the game can teach kids is how to successfully deal with conflict and come to a peaceful resolution. We as parents are always looking for ways to grow our child’s emotional maturity. I’m going to tell you how Dungeons & Dragons can do this.
One of the biggest causes of conflicts in my games comes from animals. Every so often I get players who don’t want to kill them in-game. Kids immerse themselves in the game. Every aspect of it becomes real for them, and because of that I occasionally get students who view the creatures of the game like they are real animals. On the flip side of it I get kids who understand a pack of wolves in D&D isn’t a group of puppy dogs waiting to be tamed. They want to kill them and eliminate the threat. So what happens in game when these two groups collide?
In-game conflict with kids has to be handled carefully. Feelings can be hurt, and it’s easy for things to escalate. But with the right approach the kids come to a peaceful resolution on their own.
Back to my wolves example. The first thing I do is let the kids really talk to each other in character. They have to listen. D&D requires that skill. However, it is one that comes naturally in the game. In order to play, the kids have to talk to each other. So when the conflict approaches, the ability to talk it out comes naturally to them. They understand this is how the game is played. One of the most important skills in life is to see something from another’s point of view — empathy. I have my animal lover player explain their love of the animals, how it developed in character. Then I have my practical survival-minded player explain their mindset. Then we come to the fine art of compromise.
Typically what happens is that once they understand each other’s mindsets, the other group members start chiming in. They might not have a stake in the debate, but they want the game to move forward and realize that the conflict has to be ended to do that. If they don’t chime in, I bring them in.
Conflict can often come from two strong personalities disagreeing. This is a great chance to teach them that the quiet person in the room may have ideas they haven’t thought of. In one game I had a group fighting off a pack of wolves. Players were getting critically injured. Much to their anger, the healer in the group kept trying to heal the wolf because their character loved animals.
One player expressed sincere anger and wanted to turn their attack on the healer. They went back and forth. I finally asked the group for their ideas. The quiet player came up with a solution that made them happy. The healer could try Animal Handling (with disadvantage) on their turn. However, they couldn’t heal the animals any more. Other players were free to attack. If the check worked, they would stop attacking. But if it failed the player would accept the outcome.
Both players gladly accepted this outcome, because both thought it favored them. The wolf didn’t get handled and was eventually killed. However, our animal lover was no longer angry over it as they had been given a chance by the group.
I think that everyone wants their voice and opinion to be heard, especially kids who so often get spoken over by adults. How many times are our kids fighting and we just tell them to stop? I know I do this from time to time with my four, but just telling them to stop doesn’t really stop anything. The anger and frustration is still there. The real way to stop the fighting is to stop it before it gets heated. We so often miss those moments, because we don’t see the start. However, with D&D we can catch those moments as they happen. That’s when we can really make it stop.
When my students find magic items, I roll the dice when two people want the same item and they could both get said item. However, before that I like to try to let them talk it out. What could have been a huge argument gets squished. Why? Because I remind them of what their goals are. The goal is stop evil. When that’s the goal, you want to make the best use out of what you have on you.
Both the ranger and the Strength-based fighter might want that cool magical arrow that does great damage. But one of them can make the best use of it. When the group really starts talking they typically come to that conclusion on their own. They are seeing the value of each individual player.
How does this help in teaching kids to deal with conflict? If you realize that every player has value, then you are less likely to dismiss their ideas and contributions. In this way the fighting is stopped before it ever develops. I have seen kids that only do what they want to do become unselfish players by the end of the game because of the team dynamic.
I really highlight the group nature of the game. One of the worst things that can happen in a group is to have a player who goes against the group all the time. This happens from time to time. So, when dealing with kids you sometimes have to run things a little differently than with adults. At an adult table, we tend to let players do what they are going to do knowing the consequences will hit them at some point.
With kids, things have to be a little different. Group votes become a great tool. Turning your group into a democracy can solve a lot of problems before they start. I like to take a group vote for the first few critical decisions. Kids understand this concept and therefore don’t fight the results. Often by the third or fourth session they will suggest taking a vote on their own. What often happens is that the kids will offer a compromise to the player who goes against the group.
I often get players (let’s be honest — I get rogues) who want to steal everything. I think this happens at most D&D tables. That player can get upset when the group constantly vetoes their plans to rob the town blind. It always amuses me when the group will finally say “go for it,” because they realize every player eventually has to get the character’s itch scratched. That rogue is going to later use those skills to help the group. So let them practice on a poor unsuspecting villager at least once. Plus, they will always run into one NPC who is just rude enough where no one feels too bad about it.
The final piece of advice I would give about helping kids deal with conflict in-game is to make sure you are always open to hearing the concerns of your players. I had one student message me right after a game to say she had a problem with another player’s chaotic game play. What could have been a festering issue got dealt with. Without naming names, I was able to address the group and the chaotic player worked to reign in some of their antics. This only happened because I made sure my players understood they could talk to me privately about anything game related. If you are going to DM a kids game, you have to be there for them both in and out of game. Address their concerns, and try to solve the problem.
I so often hear parents say they want their kids on a sports team so they learn how to work as a group. Few things do that so well for kids as playing Dungeons & Dragons. So if you want your child to learn conflict resolution, empathy, and the value of teamwork, go grab a set of dice and let the adventure begin. Not only will your young adventurer level up in game, but they will emotionally level up out of game.
Dungeons & Dragons classes
- Visit Megan’s Outschool page to find out about all the Dungeons & Dragons courses she teaches, as well as other classes like Medieval History: Feudalism in an Hour, Beyond Salem: Witchcraft in Colonial America, Cthulhu and Other Lore of Lovecraft, and more.