SEL Tip: Cooling down with a Conflict Journal


A conflict journal can help students calm down and reintegrate with the class - and encourage self-awareness, self-management, and autonomy.


Every year it is our job to address the underlying social, emotional, and academic needs of our students and create a positive classroom climate. Yet every year our class make up is different and we have a new mix of personalities!

Some students arrive in our classroom already carrying the label of “problem child.” These children may resist participating in classroom discussion and reject our individual instruction. They may find themselves in frequent conflict with other students. Perhaps our fellow teachers tell us that they were “difficult last year, too,” or that “no one knows what to do to help them.” Many of these children have experienced years of trauma, both in and out of school.

For these students, a conflict journal can help. A conflict journal is a personal reflection journal that students can use any time they like to help them calm down and reintegrate with the class. It supports their development of self-awareness, self-management, and autonomy, and it provides them with a non- intrusive way to cool down. I’ve worked with both elementary and middle school teachers who have had success with this strategy.


The How

Personalizing the journal

Part of what makes a conflict journal effective as a cool down tool is that it is personal. You can make it even more personal if you introduce it as a gift from you. So take a few moments to personalize a simple journal with a sticker or two for the student who will be using it.

Creating a connection

Invite the student to have a private chat with you during a relatively calm time in your day. For instance, invite the student to have lunch with you. Prepare for this meeting by identifying a time in your own childhood when you struggled with difficult feelings like anger or sadness. In your meeting, share this mini-biography of you as a child who struggled just like they do.

The gift of the journal

Let them know that you are not angry at them for their struggles, and that you understand that feelings can be hard to handle. Let them know that you want to help them cool down so that some of these difficult feelings do not get the best of them during class. Present them with the journal as a gift from you, and let them know that you got it especially for them so that they can use it to work on cooling down.

Using the journal

Ask them to identify and write down in their journal their “trigger moments” during class. What happens in the moments before they become angry or engage in conflict? They can write down these triggers in the moment they happen, right in class. Let them know that from now on, if they are feeling triggered, they can give you a special signal (thumbs down, arms crossed) and once you acknowledge that signal, they will be allowed to remove themselves from whatever activity the class is engaged in and write or draw in their conflict journal.

Questions to answer in the journal

It can be very effective to allow the journal to be a place to free write or free draw for the simple purpose of expressing feelings. But if you want to provide prompts for the student, here are some simple suggestions:

  1. I am angry right now because…
  2. I am sad right now because….
  3. One thing I could do to make myself feel better is….
  4. I might have misunderstood…..

Sharing the journal

Let them know that the journal can be completely private, or they may share their writing or drawing with you. It is their choice.