Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Every Day Conflict



"Teacher Tom, Arthur is calling us 'finger binger'."

"Are you finger binger?"

"No!"

"Then I guess he's wrong."

Most of the time, the children don't need us to get involved in their every day conflicts.

"Teacher Tom, those guys won't let us in their factory."

"How does that make you feel?"

"Bad."

"Did you tell them it makes you feel bad."

"No."

"If I were you I'd tell them it makes me feel bad when they don't let me in their factory."

Sometimes, of course, they do need us, especially when emotions are running high, but most kids, most of the time, are fully competent. They just might need a different perspective.

"Teacher Tom, she took the hula hoops and we were using them."

"Oh no, what did you say to her?"

"Nothing."

"Maybe she doesn't know you were using them."

I don't want to call it tattling, because that word is full of judgement. I like to think of it as kids taking a moment to talk through their options with me. Children who are new to our school often arrive with the expectation that the adult will simply "fix" the problem through the blunt instrument of force that is ours simply by virtue of being an adult in a space for children. But resolving conflicts is a life skill that can't be learned through other people exercising police power.

"Teacher Tom, Erin hit me!"

"Oh no, we all agreed to not hit each other. What did you do?"

"I came over here to tell you."

"Now I know. What are you going to say to Erin?"

"I'm going to tell her to stop hitting me and that I don't like it!"

"That sounds like a good idea."

Sometimes they want me to come with them, to stand nearby. If I sense they are asking for moral support, then I go with them. If I think they just want to use me as muscle or an implied threat, then I ask them to report back.

"Teacher Tom, none of the kids will give me a turn on the swings."

"And you want a turn."

"Yes."

"Did you tell them you want a turn?"

"Yes, and they still keep swinging."

"Maybe they didn't hear you."

"They heard me. I said it really loud."

"What did you say?"

"I said I'm going to tell you that they were being mean."

"And what did they say about that?"

"They said they weren't being mean."

"Maybe they weren't being mean. Maybe they just aren't finished with their turn. Maybe they think you are being mean."

"I'm not mean!"

"I know, but maybe they think you are."

"I know! I'll say please!"

Most often it's the last I hear of the conflict. Other times they get stuck and need me to mediate, which doesn't mean "solve." Usually, I just listen, occasionally repeating or reframing key points.

"Don't call us finger binger!"

If he doesn't respond, I might say, "They don't want you to call them finger binger."

"I didn't call them finger binger."

If they don't respond, I might say, "He says he didn't call you finger binger."

"He did too."

"They say you did."

"I called them finger inger!"

"He says he called you finger inger, not finger binger."

"Well, we don't like that either."

. . . This can take a long time without anyone having more inherent power than anyone else. Learning to resolve conflicts among peers is, necessarily, an inefficient process. And it goes on throughout life. 

******

"I recommend this book to everyone concerned with children and the future of humanity." ~Peter Gray, Ph.D. If you want to see what Dr. Gray is talking about you can find Teacher Tom's First Book and Teacher Tom's Second Book right here

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