Problem Solving or Conflict Resolution (page 3)
Once they have successfully inhibited their impulse to strike out or yell, children can begin to solve their problems nonviolently. Good problem-solving skills enable children to avoid aggression (Richard and Dodge, 1982; Spivack and Shure, 1974), stand up for themselves, and build competence and self-esteem (Dinwiddle, 1994; Gonzalez-Mena, 2002).
The process requires them to be calm and able to listen. They will need your help as a facilitator, and you will need enough time and energy to carry through from beginning to end. There’s no point in starting the process if everyone is exhausted or you’ll have to stop for a snack in the middle (Dinwiddle, 1994). It’s useful to remember that conflicts are normal events that provide excellent teaching and learning opportunities and that children are more likely to honor solutions they’ve thought up themselves.
Most experts agree about how to proceed. There are five basic steps (Committee for Children, 2002; Gonzalez-Mena, 2002; Slaby et al., 1995):
- Identify the problem. All participants in the dispute must have a chance to define the problem. They have to frame it so that it has a solution, which isn’t always easy for young children. “Johnny took my bike” is a fact, not a problem that can be easily solved. If Laura says, “Johnny wants my bike,” Johnny can reply that Laura has had the bike for a very long time, and they can agree that the problem is “both children want the bike.” Then they can begin to find solutions.
- Brainstorm solutions. It’s good to have a selection to choose from, and it’s important to accept all ideas, no matter how silly or unworkable they seem. To elicit them nonjudgmentally, use a phrase like, “That’s one idea. What’s another?” In The Explosive Child (1998), Ross W. Greene suggests reminding children of satisfactory ways they’ve handled similar problems in the past.
- Evaluate solutions. This is the time to examine what might work and why. The Second Step program (Committee for Children, 2002) asks the question, “What might happen if?” to help children learn to think about the possible consequences of a proposed action.
- Choose a solution and try it.
- Evaluate the outcome. If the first solution doesn’t work, tackle the process again.
Although young children can’t learn all of this at once, they can begin to learn and use one skill at a time.
It’s especially important for children who have difficulty processing social information to learn and practice these skills. If they believe that their failures are their own fault while their successes are due to luck—and many children with problems processing social information do—they may give up far too easily (Rubin et al., 1998). Learning to problem-solve may empower them at the same time that it boosts their skills. Because they often think that the other person in the conflict has hostile intentions, they may also have trouble coming up with nonaggressive alternative solutions, and they may believe that aggressive solutions will get them what they want (Price and Dodge, 1989). Social skills programs often help children learn to distinguish accidents from intentional acts. However, it’s important to remember that in some environments attributing hostile intent to others is adaptive—and can be a matter of life and death (Guerra, 1997b).
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