Conflict Narratives in Middle Childhood presents evidence from twenty years of research, examining nearly 3,000 narratives from 1,600 children in eight settings in two countries about their own experiences with interpersonal conflict. Close readings, combined with systematic analysis of dozens of features of the stories reveal that when children are invited to write or talk about their own conflicts, they produce accounts that are often charming and sometimes heartbreaking, and that always bring to light their social, emotional, and moral development. Children’s personal stories about conflict reveal how they create and maintain friendships, how they understand and react to the social aggression that threatens those friendships, and how they understand and cope with physical aggression ranging from the pushing and poking of peers to criminal violence in their neighborhoods or families. Sometimes children describe the efforts of adults to influence their conflicts - efforts they sometimes welcome and sometimes resist. Their stories show them ‘taking on’ gender and other cultural commitments. We are not just watching children become more and more like us as they move through the elementary school years - we are watching them become the architects of a future we will only see to the extent that we understand their way of making sense.
Table of Contents
Section 1: Listening to Children’s Stories about their Own Conflicts
1. Why Conflict? Why Narrative? A Theoretical Framework for the Study of Peer Conflict Narratives in Middle Childhood
2. "What are you going to do with our stories?" Collaborating with Children to Understand Peer Conflict
Section 2: How Children Describe their Own Conflicts
3. "Fighting about Friendship": Figuring out what it Means to be a Friend
4. "She would kerce me out practedly every day": Social Aggression in Elementary School
5. "Because the buyer had a gang in the dark corners of all around": Making Sense of a Violent World
6. "I told my mom & she helped comfort me": The Roles Children Give to Adults in their Stories
7. "Little girl, I was not talking to you!" Taking on Gender in Middle Childhood
8. "From that day on I became more responsible": Creating the Self and Re-Creating Culture in Middle Childhood
Section 3: Applying the Lessons Learned from Children’s Stories of Conflict
9. Oral Story-Sharing Practices and the Healthy Classroom Community
10. Beyond Literacy Skills: Story Writing Facilitates Social, Emotional, and Moral Development
11. "It is okay to have conflicts, the most important thing is to know how to solve conflicts." The Critical Role of Conflict Narratives in Human Development
Marsha D. Walton is the Winton C. Blount Chair in Social Science at Rhodes College. She completed her doctoral work in developmental psychology in 1979 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has supervised many bright and committed undergraduates on a Child Narrative Research Team, forty-five of whom have gone on to take doctorates in psychology or related fields.
Alice J. Davidson is an Associate Professor of Psychology and a Cornell Distinguished Faculty member at Rollins College. She holds a PhD in Human Development and Family Studies from The Pennsylvania State University. She teaches community engagement courses in child and adolescent development and studies peer relations in middle childhood.
'Walton and Davidson take us on an enlightening journey, examining over 3000 stories told by children over 20 years of study. Through stories of making and losing friends, of fitting in and rejection, we see how children re-create culture in each new generation through negotiating the moral ground of their everyday experiences of peers, friendships, and conflicts.' - Robyn Fivush, Emory University
'A unique study of children’s social thoughts! Walton and Davidson take an exciting new approach to peer relations research by prioritizing children’s own voices. Their systematic, insightful, and culture-sensitive interpretations lend a rich, passionate, and powerful narrative voice to children’s personal stories of friendships and conflicts in American and Chinese urban schools.' - Yeh Hsueh, The University of Memphis
'Many assume that verbal and aggressive conflicts in middle childhood are primarily impulsive, harmful, and mean. However, Walton and Davidson capture the complex reflective, agentic, and uplifting character of preadolescents' conflict narratives. A powerful and inspiring appreciation of youth entry and contributions to the moral character of their cultures.' - William A. Corsaro, Author of Sociology of Childhood and We’re Friends, Right: Inside Kids’ Culture
'Compelling narratives on an important topic. Conflict Narratives in Middle Childhood fills an important gap in the child conflict literature, engaging the reader with high-caliber qualitative research.' - Brett Laursen, Florida Atlantic University