Conflict is an inevitable part of every child’s day. We have played with introducing and taking away different materials in the back yard to see the different ways that children approach their play. Back in the fall, we decided to remove all trucks because the children were so emotionally attached that violence ensued nearly daily. Conflict lessened but after awhile, we noticed that children were fighting over sticks as well. Maybe it wasn’t the trucks after all but just that they’re 2 and 3? Humans seem to be wired for conflict so teachers and parents must become versed in conflict resolution. We have decided to reintroduce the trucks and it has been interesting to see how much more developed the children’s conflict resolution skills have become since September.
Many of you may be familiar with our school norm of “no forced sharing”. Instead, we coach the children on turn taking and trading which teaches them the importance of negotiation and problem solving. We spend a great deal of time (perhaps most?) of our time while the children are playing talking them through these steps. It usually looks like this:
Child A has a toy that Child B wants.
Child B confronts child A and attempts to grab the toy. Child B runs or screams.
Teacher notices that conflict is erupting and stands nearby.
Teacher says, “Child A has a toy. Child B wants it.” (This type of communication is what we refer to as “sportscasting” or “broadcasting”. It is unemotional and fact based. We are stating “the facts” as we perceive them.)
Child A may say something to the effect of, “I am playing with this!”
Child B will say, “I want that toy!!”
To which the teacher may say, “child B, you can say ‘can I play with that toy when you are finished?’” (This is what we call “providing a script”. This gives the child communication skills and tools to work with.) Sometimes, Child B will repeat the prompt given by the teacher and Child A will say, “yes”.
If this doesn’t work we go to the next plan. We suggest that Child B may find another toy to offer Child A as a trade.
The teacher will say, “I wonder if there is another toy that Child A may be interested in playing with. Perhaps you can find a toy to trade?”
Sometimes it works! Sometimes it doesn’t. We continue to coach and prompt the children through conflict, hoping that they will learn to solve their conflicts independently. Teachers serve as impartial allies who’s main purpose is to give the children safe space to work through their play.
Last week this scene played out:
IM had a truck that HF wanted. I noticed that HF was chasing IM and that HF was very upset.
I walked over to them and said, “HF is very upset.”
To which HF said, “I want that!”
And IM said, “I’m playing with this!”
I turned to HF and said, “it looks like Isaac is playing with that. You can say ‘can I play with that when you’re done.’”
HF said, “can I play when you’re done.” (Or something to that effect)
IM said, “no!”
I said, “HF, I wonder if there is another truck that IM may want to play with?”
HF continued to remain very upset and said, “no!”
HE had been watching from a distance and heard my wonder. She found a truck to offer to IM.
IM accepted the truck and then graciously gave HF the truck that he originally wanted without prompting from me!
Like magic! The children figured out a solution with a little coaching and help from a friend.