Thursday, April 28, 2016

"I Don't Like That Idea"

I've written about a few of these sorts of tug-o-war conflicts lately (for instance, here and here). I hesitate to call each one a "gem," because they are, after all conflicts, but there is something both perfect and real about each one. Perhaps if they are gems, they are of the uncut variety.

We were cleaning up, when a pair of boys, found themselves in a conflict over a wooden truck.

W: "I'll help you put it away."

M: "I want to put it away by myself."

W: "I'll help you."

M: "No, I want to do it by myself!"

In fairness, as an adult judges it, M's hands had been on the toy first, but that isn't the point he was arguing. The boys appeared to be equally resolute, but there was more emotional energy on M's side. There was some tugging so I put my hand on the toy, a technique I like to use to help shift physical conflict into a conversation. Usually, the advent of my hand releases some tension, allowing them the space for dialog, but in this case it didn't work in that way they continued to pull on the truck.

I said, "M wants to put the toy away by himself."

W answered, "I want to help you." He was directing his comment directly at M, rather than through me. He was the calmer of the two, really making an effort to persuade his classmate.

M wasn't having it. He was on the verge of tears. With a sudden yank, he attempted to wrest control of the toy from both of us. I said, referring to the list of rules that hangs on the wall, "We all agreed that we couldn't take things from each other. That means we'll have to talk and not tug."

"But, I want to put it away by myself."

"I will help you."

By now the classroom was tidied up and the children were assembling on the checkerboard rug for circle time. S offered his idea, "You could both put it away together." When neither boy responded, I said, "S thinks you guys can put it away together."

W: "I like that idea."

M: "I don't like that idea."

After a few more rounds of stating their bedrock arguments, a calmer disagreement that allowed me to release my grip on the toy, R suggested, "Maybe one of you can take it some of the way and one of you can take it the rest of the way."

W: "I like that idea."

M: "I don't like that idea."

By now the two boys were in the middle of the rug while the rest of their classmates were more or less watching. I said, "Everybody is ready for circle time. We just have one more truck to put away and M and W are both holding it." At this point one of the other children made a loud joke about an unrelated topic, clearly ready to just get circle time started. I turned my attention toward laughing, just for a second, and when I looked back, W was putting the truck on the shelf while M sat on the rug looking defeated.

My first thought was that W had simply snatched it while my attentions were divided. I said, "W is putting the truck away by himself. M, is that okay with you?"

M nodded, "It's okay with me," his face a study in glumness. A parent-teacher later told me that there had been no snatching, that M had simply, without comment, released his grip.

My wife and I are currently dealing with a loved one who is in rapid physical and mental decline. We are having to make a lot of decisions on her behalf. We feel that there are no "good" choices. Indeed, we feel that in many cases there are not even any "less bad" choices: damned if we do and damned if we don't. I expect M felt a little bit like this as he was faced with the equally bad options of continuing to fight or giving up.

Resolving conflict isn't always pretty nor is it always "fair." Sometimes it's enough to just live to fight another day.

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