Friday, October 09, 2009


Victory can only be claimed with both sides can say the same. --Ghandi

Regard your opponent as a potential ally. --Ghandi

Jack was sitting in a Playhut cube on top of a pile of giant plastic insects. In fact, it was a pile of all the giant plastic insects. He’d collected them while the other children were busy elsewhere and now he was “using” them.

Earlier in the day Charlie B. had developed an attachment to the giant grasshopper. When he spotted his prized insect in Jack’s pile he did what most young 3-year-olds would do: reached in and grabbed it.

This apparently wasn’t the first attempt by a child to separate Jack from his collection, and having learned to be vigilant, he laid a firm hand on the grasshopper as well, letting out a fierce wail.

Not to be deterred, Charlie held on, saying softly, “I want it.”

It’s a scene played out daily in preschools across the country. Sometimes it’s a child who uses all the blocks and simply can’t spare any for other builders. Sometimes it’s a play dough horder or a plastic fork aggregator or a baby doll adopter. The common characteristic is that while they may have acquired these monopolies fairly, they aren’t playing with the toys as much as simply defending them. It may have been fun cornering the market, but the joy is lost in the serious game of protecting the pile.

We’ve all found ourselves, often inexplicably, backed into a corner, defending an untenable position. As adults it usually involves knowing that we’ve lost the argument, but being unable in our emotional state to admit it, we get louder, less reasonable, and bent on changing the subject to something we can be right about. We find ourselves chosing to be miserable rather than admit to being wrong. The only way out of it is time for reflection (followed by an act of contrition) or better yet, an “opponent” who offers us a safe landing place.

I put my hand on the grasshopper and stated, “Jack had this grasshopper first.” Charlie released his grip, but not without saying again, “I want it.”

Jack tucked the grasshopper firmly under his knee. He was clearly miserable, which is the natural state of anyone protecting a hoard. Charlie was upset at not attaining his prized grasshopper, which is the natural state of the disappointed.

I described the situation as clearly as I could: “Jack has all the bugs. Charlie wants to play with the grasshopper.” I had no idea of what was going to happen next. After making the statement, I just let it hang there.

We all sat in the silence. Jack’s insects were no longer under attack, which must have given him enough emotional breathing space to move out of the corner into which he’d retreated. After a moment, Jack pulled the grasshopper from under his knee and handed it to Charlie. Charlie beamed. Jack beamed back at him. Charlie then climbed into the Playhut cube with Jack and they sat there together for several minutes, still beaming, handing out giant plastic insects to whoever asked.

Ghandi is often said to have devised the “win-win” model of conflict resolution. There is no better win than one that makes your opponent your ally. Win-win feels good and when we feel good, we do good.

(This may be totally unrelated, but I suspect not.) Later in the day, Peter removed himself from the classroom and sat on the steps just outside the door. He looked sad. I went to sit beside him and Charlie followed me. I said, “Peter, you look sad.”

He answered something about a friend, but I didn’t quite make it out. Before I could ask him to repeat it, Charlie took Peter by the hand, walked him through the classroom, and up the stairs into our loft. Charlie put his hands on the side and started jumping up and down. Peter, now smiling, started jumping beside him.

I love my job.

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MOM #1 said...

What a natural and diplomatic solution. I have to admit, my first instinct would have been to take all the bugs and put them away. I guess that's why no one else trusts me with their children.

Thanks for playing along with the meme. I love that your Mom is hardening and your Dad is softening. Isn't that how it always is! ;-)

Really? Your favorite food is SALAD! No wonder you look so luscious in your super-spandex costume.

sproutsinthekitchen said...

So I find that, and maybe it's because I believe in the ultimate goodness of my kid, that it's almost always better when we let the kids work out their conflicts, woes, etc. amongst themselves (not, necessarily without some helpful "observations" from the bigger people in their lives) than with any parent involvement or coaching. It is amazing, the empathy, that kids can show for one another, even in the midst of a "me" moment, if we just give them the space.

Andrea said...

After a particularly difficult week on the home front with Charlie B. that was definitely a very bright moment. Thank you for putting it into words so I could share it with Jon.

I find that with most of our play dates, unless someone is in physical peril we are best to give the kids a few moments to work out their problems. It seems to lead to a quicker resolution than if we jump in and try to help out.

Pumpkin Delight said...

Hmmmm, maybe you should have won the Nobel Prize, for peace.

Life with Kaishon said...

Oh, such a wonderful story of life in the classroom! I love too, that you said, you didn't know what would happen when Charlie did not want to give up the grasshopper. It's hard to know what will happen! I love when what is fair and right prevails!

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