Learning Conflict Resolution (page 2)
Children who have some perspective-taking ability can be helped to learn conflict resolution skills. The ability to avoid and resolve conflicts constitutes another essential aspect of social competence. It involves the ability to communicate personal needs and to listen to others expressing theirs. It also involves willingness to compromise as well as the capacity to manage aggression (Siccone & Lopez, 2000). All these aspects of negotiation require the child to take into consideration the viewpoint of others. These sophisticated abilities require significant practice.
“You dummy!” yells Megan as Sam pours rice into the funnel at the rice table. Her teacher calmly walks over and asks Megan, “You don’t like something Sam is doing?” The the teacher guides Megan’s words from merely expressing anger to clear communication of what is upsetting her. Sam needs help hearing this message and deciding what to do about it. The teacher is there to make this a valuable learning experience for both children.
Children do not get this practice if adults solve problems for them. Instead, adults must guide youngsters in age-appropriate ways and help them to resolve their own differences. For very young children with limited language ability, the teacher may do the talking for both parties in reflecting the two viewpoints. As children mature, they can gradually take a more active role in the expression of their different views. The goal is for the teacher or parent to intervene as little as possible. In the following example, Stephen seems to have learned a lot:
Kyle had grabbed a truck from Stephen and wouldn’t give it back. Then he took a larger truck and hit Stephen with it. The first impulse of the teacher, Maureen, was to go to Stephen and see if he was all right. But the chain of events that happened next kept her out of it.
Stephen stood up, looked at Kyle with an angry face, and said, “What’s my face telling you? I’m mad and if you hit me again or won’t play nice I’m going someplace else to play!” Then Stephen sat down and began to play again. Kyle looked surprised, gave back the truck, and they were off playing together again. Maureen caught Stephen’s eye, smiled, and winked a congratulatory message. She felt wonderful to see the results of the teaching she had been doing.
The Teacher as Coach
A variety of teaching methods are useful in helping children develop social competence. The teacher who respectfully considers children’s viewpoints is teaching by example. When children are involved in a dispute, the teacher’s appropriate role might be more of a coach, providing encouragement, critiquing the performance, and recommending strategies for improvement. Sometimes the most helpful adult role is to stand back and let children experience the social consequence of their actions. Kyle might need to learn from experience that other kids don’t want to play with him when he grabs things from them.
Although it is important not to intervene more than necessary, it is also important to be there as needed, both for safety and support. Therefore, when Dennis sends Colette over to the playhouse with a suggestion for joining in play there, he also tells her to come back and talk to him if it doesn’t work. Dennis helps Colette to watch what Kelsey and Megan are playing and to think of how she can help. He helps her plan her entry into the play activity, and stays nearby to lend her confidence while she carries out the plan. Dennis could simply tell Kelsey and Megan they have to let Colette play, but that wouldn’t teach Colette useful social skills. It certainly wouldn’t make her more popular with her peers, either.
The playground at recess definitely offers the richest opportunity to help children learn social skills. Yet, in most schools, teachers are given recess time as part of their preparation time, leaving playground supervision to aides. The problems with this situation are many: the ratio of children to adults is likely to be at least 100 to 1, making it impossible to do any teaching. Even mere crowd control is a challenge with those numbers. Even if the numbers were appropriate, the aides can’t know the children well enough to provide guidance aimed at the needs of individuals. In addition, very few aides have adequate background and training to provide the kind of guidance that will be beneficial. No wonder kids just get sent to the principal when a fight breaks out. The opportunity for on-the-spot problem solving is lost. For this reason, more and more teachers are choosing to go out to recess with their students. They report that they are able to observe natural peer dynamics and diagnose the causes of many social problems as a result.
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