A Peaceful Problem-Solving Model
Early childhood settings can offer children opportunities to learn and practice fundamental problem-solving skills. Various writers recommend differing versions of a social information-processing model (Carlsson-Paige & Levin, 1998; Crick & Dodge, 1994; Dinwiddie, 1994; Gartrell, 2002; Hewitt & Heidemann, 1998; Kreidler, 1996; Levin, 2003; Shure, 1992) but typically include the basic steps of: 1) "reading" a social situation to identify feelings and define the problem; 2) generating alternative solutions; 3) evaluating proposed solutions; 4) agreeing on a solution and carrying it out; and 5) evaluating the outcome of the solution to determine if it is successful.
Many teachers have success with a problem-solving approach that presents five steps to problem solving, which includes the children asking themselves questions and seeking answers in order to arrive at a solution to the problem at hand (Committee for Children, 1992). The goal is to determine a win-win solution—one that takes into account each child's point of view, is more or less agreeable to all, and restores a sense of safety, as opposed to a "win-lose" solution (where one child's position prevails) or "lose-lose" solutions (where neither child's needs are met) (Levin, 2003). The five steps to problem solving presented below are the ones presented in Second Step, a violence prevention curriculum for preschoolers and kindergarteners (Committee for Children, 1992) and successfully used by the authors in early childhood settings. First, each step will be explained, along with the role of the adult in that step. (For simplicity, we use the term "teacher" to stand for all adults—teachers, caregivers, and parents.) Then detailed suggestions for teaching the steps to young children will be presented.
1. What Is the Problem? Identifying the problem includes a discussion of each child's point of view-that is, the feelings and needs of the victim and the aggressor (Dinwiddie, 1994). This helps to define the problem or conflict as a shared one, where there are two competing points of view. Children usually phrase the problem from their own point of view based on concrete actions such as "Alexi took my truck" or "Kayla won't give me the fire truck" rather than "We both want the truck." It is up to the teacher to show how both children have legitimate, albeit incompatible points of view, and to clarify the feelings of each party in the dispute: "Kayla, you looked angry when Alexi grabbed the truck." and "Alexi, look at Kayla's face. How do you think she is feeling?" (Obviously, teaching young children an emotional vocabulary is an essential prerequisite skill for effective problem solving.)
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