A Peaceful Problem-Solving Model (page 3)
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.)
The role of the teacher at this step is to help children tune in to each other's needs and feelings and redefine the problem as a shared one. "So the problem is, Kayla was using the truck and Alexi wants the truck, too. You both want to play with the truck."
2. What Can I Do? In brainstorming sessions, children think of many ideas in a short amount of time. At this point, teachers encourage ideas without evaluating or placing judgments on the suggested solutions. It is useful to have children, even 4-year-olds, suggest whatever ideas come to mind, good or bad, so that they have a chance to evaluate consequences of impulsive and aggressive behavior (in step 3). If a child suggests a less-than-ideal option, the teacher should include it in the list the children are creating with a comment such as, "Yes, you are right. Sometimes children do grab toys. Let's write that down."
3. What Might Happen If. . . ? In this step, the class evaluates ideas by generating consequences for each solution. "What might happen if Kayla decides to push Alexi away? Is that safe? How would Alexi feel?" At this point, any potential solutions that are unsafe or hurt another child's feelings are eliminated. For other ideas, the children need to answer the questions "Is it fair? Will it work?" Now is the time to respond to any of the children's inappropriate suggestions from the brainstorming session. For younger children, the teacher may need to show puppets acting out some of the solutions, so that the children can judge the appropriateness of ideas.
4. Choose a Solution and Use It. Once children decide on a best solution, they need to figure out how to implement their plan successfully. Often young children verbalize such solutions as "take turns with the truck." Given the natural egocentricity of young children, however, they each tend to assume they can go first. To deal with this dilemma, some teachers have developed methods that children use to decide who actually goes first. (One creative teacher had several Popsicle sticks in a covered can. Only the tips of the Popsicle sticks were visible. The bottom of one stick was colored with green marker. "Green means go." The child drawing that Popsicle stick takes the first turn. After the children in her class became accustomed to this idea, they trusted that they would always get their turn eventually, even if they weren't "first." Soon the children were racing to find the "turn can" on their own.) Once it is decided who will be first, the teacher helps the children determine the length of the turn and may need to watch the clock, or set up a timer, to ensure fair turn-taking.
The teacher's role in this step is to rephrase the chosen solution, "So you've decided to take turns with the truck" and clarify how the solution will be implemented. Teachers need to remain nearby as children enact the solution and monitor progress to make sure the agreement is going according to plan.
5. Is It Working? If Not, What Can I Do Now? During this final, evaluative step of problem solving, children have an opportunity to reflect on how well their plan worked and on their feelings about the outcome. Teachers support the children's successful solutions with an affirming statement. "You thought of a good solution. You worked together to solve the problem!"
If any child is not satisfied with the outcome, he or she may decide to try another solution instead. They would then need to retrace the five steps to problem solving.
(Note: In the 2002 revision of the Second Step curriculum, the problem-solving steps are presented to preschoolers using a poster depicting only 3 steps:
- How do I feel?
- What is the problem?
- What can I do?
It is the opinion of the authors that the simplified poster could be a useful reminder for young children, but it has been our experience that preschool-age children can follow the five-step format and benefit from a discussion of the potential outcomes for various solutions.
For primary grade children, the five-step process was retained, with slight variation in the wording on the poster to read:
- What is the problem?
- What are some solutions?
- For each solution, ask yourself: Is it safe? How might people feel about it? Is it fair? Will it work?
- Choose a solution and use it.
- Is it working? If not, what can I do now?
© ______ 2005, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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