Bringing Life to Early Childhood

A Blog by Jan Jobey

Tag: Behavior and Guidance

Resolve or Rob: Conflict Resolution

As I write on this topic of “democracy” in early childhood, it continues to grow.  It really is a complex topic that involves every level of our programs.  I also know that this is a “hot” topic… but we usually refer to it as “behavior and guidance”.  So, I want to discuss conflict resolution in a little more depth. After all, in any society or group, there will be conflict.  And learning how to deal with conflict is part of the democratic process.

In my many years of providing mental health services for many programs, I’ve had the honor of helping teachers and children practice conflict resolution skills.  In one particular circumstance, a 4 year old boy who had been identified as a “challenging child”, indeed demonstrated his particular way of resolving problems on this particular day:  Trevor had shoved Collin down to be able to play with a particular truck.  I quickly stepped in, and checked the child who had been knocked down, helping him to his feet. Next, I gently reached for the aggressor’s hand and held it gently and with my other hand reached for the truck and simply said: “Oops we have a problem…let me hold the truck while we figure it out”.

The next step was to help each child tell their ‘story’, so I said: “Collin, tell me what happened”, and Collin proceeds to tell me that Trevor pushed him down.  Then, “Trevor, tell me what happened”.  Trevor’s eyes look downward and he shifts his feet.  It was clear he didn’t want to admit what happened. So, I continued by trying to state his side of the story: “So, Trevor, it looks like you wanted to play with the truck too, is that right?”  He nodded in the affirmative.

Time to sum it up: “So, Collin you were playing with the truck, and then Trevor wanted the truck too and so he pushed you down to get it, is that right? It sounds like you both wanted to play with this truck”.  At this point, other children in the classroom, have become very interested in this exchange. I think partly, because they are truly interested in seeing how Trevor (known to bully) is going to respond.  While this conflict is between two children, it is relevant to all the children in this group. They would all like Trevor to stop pushing!

So, I continued:  “What are some ways we can solve this problem? You both want to play with the truck and our rule is ‘Use Your Words’”.  Suddenly, several bystander children are offering all kinds of solutions and tips to Trevor.  They are offering these ideas matter-of-factly.  No one is being mean to Trevor…it’s like they all have a vested interested in helping him…and they do!  Taking turns, playing somewhere else, asking before grabbing…they have great ideas! They know what they want Trevor to do.  But no one is blaming. They have come together to help and whether or not Trevor senses this, he seems to be touched by their lack of accusations.

Next, I say, “These are some great ideas that will keep us all safe.  How would you all like to solve this problem?”  Trevor, still looking downward, says, “Take turns”.  I ask Collin if he thinks that is a good solution.  He says, “How ‘bout I play with it five minutes, then he can have a turn?”  I add, “Trevor, does that sound like a good plan?”  He nods.  I return the truck to Collin, we set a timer and the turns are taken without further incidence. I tell them, “You all solved the problem”.   I stay close by to ensure things go well.

This scenario could have played out very differently.  I could have taken over and solved the problem thereby robbing them of the opportunity to learn conflict resolution skills.  I could have shamed Trevor and sent him to the “quiet” area to “think about it” which would have only reinforced his negative cycle.  I could have left Collin out of it (since he wasn’t really at fault) and reinforced the role of victim.  I could have told the by-standers to go back to their play areas robbing them of the opportunity to be part of the solution.

Are we looking for blame or are we looking for solutions?

Are we building resolution skills or are we robbing children of opportunities to learn these skills? What are your thoughts on this topic?

Want to learn about the conflict resolution process?  Check out this online class: Beyond Challenging Behaviors.


Stay Calm and Trust: Respecting and Following Rules

A few years ago, my daughter was nearly killed in an accident by a young man who decided texting was more important than stopping at a traffic light.  My daughter suffered traumatic brain injury and was in a coma and then rehab for months afterwards.  She had to learn ALL her motor skills all over again—swallowing to walking!   At that time, there was not a “law” that specifically prohibited texting while driving and while he was responsible for the accident, the cost to my daughter and her family could never be compensated.  Today, there is a law that prohibits texting while driving.  How her life could have been different if he had had enough self-regulation to wait… Becoming a good citizen is really just about developing self-regulation skills.  I’ve previously discussed how children can be part of the rule-making process as well as how empathy is the foundation to self-regulation.  Self-regulation (and specifically the ability to following rules) is identified as a school readiness skill: children are more likely to be successful in school when they can follow rules.  And it makes sense, of course.  When children can follow basic rules and routines necessary to progress through the school day,  both teachers and children benefit.  No one gets hurt. When children are disruptive or do not possess the skills needed to follow rules, then both teachers and children suffer. We can say the same thing about adult citizens who follow rules…or who choose not to follow laws.  Rules need to be positively stated….in other words, they need to tell children what they can do.   “Don’t text and drive” is a popular slogan nowadays.  Our recent vacation took us through the state of Tennessee and flashing signs over the highway said: Stay alert—Keep your eyes on the road.   What a great way to tell drivers what they expect out of them.  Keeping our eyes on the road would also preclude reading e-mail, getting driving directions, or smearing ketchup on your burger.  One statement–covering a multitude of “sins”.

Rules should also be relevant and reasonable. Frequently, I see the rule “Keep your hands and feet to yourself”.  Don’t like that one much.  That “rule” would mean I could never touch another person…which isn’t very reasonable.  So, how do you expect children to use hands and feet?  We use helping hands and feet” or “we use kind hands and feet” might be better options.  Another question I might ask you would be, how do you expect children to solve problems?  What would be your expectation?  Use your words?  What kind of words?  Get my point?

So, now that you have “good rules”, it just depends on us to be consistent in using them.  Reminding children what the applicable rule is for a situation is easy now.  That “other” perspective that I discussed in the last post provides a “cushion” for the rule.  “Your words really hurt Sarah. Remember our rule is: Use kind words.”  The only thing left to do now is give a choice—yep, this goes back to a recent post too.  So, now, I’d offer this child two acceptable choices or ask her (if she has the skills) to solve the problem:  “Use kind words or find another place to play”  OR “How can you use kind words to solve your problem?”

And don’t forget to provide lots of SPECIFIC positive reinforcement for rules that are followed: “thanks for picking up your toys”, “You are using your words to solve your problems”, or “thanks for walking inside”.

Learning to follow rules takes time…and for some children, even more time.  Patience…a calm spirit, a peaceful presence, AND a belief that all children can learn are essential attitudes in teaching self-regulation to little ones!   So, Stay Calm and Trust (in yourself and your little ones)!

Respecting the Rights and Opinions of Others

One of the many great things about living in a democratic society, is that we all have rights and opinions.  Recognizing however, that WE all have rights and opinions, also comes the understanding that my neighbor, friend, coworker, or peer also has rights and opinions that may be DIFFERENT from mine.  And that’s okay.  We all come from different backgrounds and walks in life which influences our perspectives and opinions.  I love the opportunity to be able to have those conversations with my colleagues that help me to see their perspective.  I may not embrace their opinion, but I can certainly respect it and accept that they have valid reasons for it…and understand and appreciate them even more!  But this is really a very difficult thing to teach preschoolers.  Young children are, by nature, egocentric.  They have a viewpoint from THEIR perspective from which they operate.  AND they have difficulty taking another’s perspective.  But it doesn’t mean that we can’t teach “other” perspective or that they can’t learn from others. In this post, I will discuss a couple of ways to promote respecting the rights and opinions of others.

  • We begin by modeling “Do what I do” is much more powerful than “do what I say”, right? The essential, most fundamental, most important, aspect of developing self-regulation in young children, is empathy.  Empathy is knowing how others are feeling. And when someone has empathy for me, I learn that someone cares.  I might also hear “feeling” vocabulary.  I learn the facial expressions and the gestures that accompany those words.  I learn how it feels for someone to care about me and my feelings.
  • From infants to grown-ups, we can simply reflect another’s feelings. You are really upset.  You are so excited that you did it by yourself. You are very sad that she doesn’t want to be your friend.  You’re upset that you didn’t get invited to the party.  It’s so easy…but yet, we frequently skip this step–a ten second step to show the other person you know how they feel.
  • Another strategy is inform the child how “others” are affected by their behavior…but matter-of-factly. No shaming here because that only defeats your purpose.  “I’m really concerned that others may not want to play with you if you use hurtful words.”  “Jaxon didn’t like it when you said that to him.”   Additionally, what’s even more powerful, is to have an injured child tell the offender how his behavior made him feel.
  • Children love puppet shows…even impromptu ones. The perspective of a cow and a pig might be quite different when discussing their favorite place to play.  To have puppets act out a scenario that happened just a few minutes earlier in the block area, can be very intriguing! And it can be very surprising the insight that children can have!
  • Want to try something a little more benign? Find a beautiful work of art (maybe about your topic of study) or a photograph that evokes feelings.  Try an “art appreciation” exercise: Ask children to tell you how it makes them feel.  Make a list of children’s names and their identified feeling.  Or ask them to tell a story about the picture.  “Stories” for children may only be 1 to 3 sentences….so you aren’t asking for a novel here!  But the point is, that we can begin to learn that different perspectives are a fact of life.
  • Ask children’s perspectives and opinions about all sorts of things: what they think this book is about, how that story made them feel, what do they think will happen, how do you think the turtle in this story felt, how do you think Goldilocks felt when she got lost, how do you think Baby Bear felt when he found his chair broken to pieces?

So, while children are egocentric, we can do a lot to develop empathy. From what I’ve experienced this week, I think the world could use more empathy…more caring for others…and less thinking about themselves!  I’d love to hear if you other ways to teach empathy to young children!  Stay tuned for more about teaching “democratic principles”…respecting and following rules!