by Roxie Zeller
Many times, conflicts for preschoolers revolve around toys and materials or excluding others. Young children’s usual method of solving these problems tends to be yelling, playing tug-of-war with the toy, or hitting each other — all of which tend to end with an adult solving the problem and having the final say. It can look silly at times watching children fight over toys. I have often thought to myself, “It would be ridiculous if adults acted like this,” but the reality is some adults do. When they do, I think, “Well this is silly. They are acting like preschoolers.” Watching adults arguing like children is a good reminder to me of why we teach our children to resolve conflicts.
While in college, I was taught how to help children work through conflicts. First, everyone involved must be calm. Then both children need to tell their sides of the story; they brainstorm solutions, decide on one that works, and finally an adult monitors the situation. This is a very common practice in preschools and in some elementary schools. By having very clear steps, the goal is for children to eventually be able to walk through the step on their own, thus resolving their own conflicts. This method, I think, works well when children need a mediator, or when both parties can remain calm when talking about the problem on their own. It does also give children a great framework to learn the steps needed to resolve some problems. At All Seasons we teach children that in order to solve a problem, you need to be calm, listen to other perspectives and work together to find an acceptable solution (sometimes their solution is not one teachers would choose, but it is acceptable to them). The more time I spend teaching in the classroom, I have learned that although this strategy works well to teach the skills of conflict resolution, it is not the only way that children are learning how to solve problems.
Many times children learn by watching their peers and adults handle conflicts. Children then apply what they’ve seen when attempting to solve their own problems. As much as children learn from having an adult guide them through a conflict resolution strategy, nothing is as impactful as when children are given a chance to handle things on their own. One thing that I love about All Seasons is how much we trust the preschoolers to handle their own conflicts. We set them up for success by giving them the tools that they need to solve their own problems and often intentions get out of the way. From the first day of school, we tell children that our school rule is “you can’t say you can’t play.” If another child asks to play, they need to offer that child some role in the game. The child who asked to play can choose to join the game in the offered role or play somewhere else. If a child comes to us saying that another child took away a toy, we encourage the child to talk directly to their friend. We might say, “Go tell them that you were not finished with that toy, and that you’ll give it to them when you are done.” When the child goes back to solve the problem, the teacher monitors from afar, giving the pair a chance to solve the problem on their own. More times than not, preschoolers can resolve it independently. Only when necessary, a teacher steps in.
By giving the children the opportunity to work things out with their peers in a real-life situation, we are setting them up for a lifetime of success. Being able to solve problems that will inevitably arise is a life skill we want our students to carry forward.