Modelling "How to Solve a Problem"

From time to time, children come to the office (or are sent to the office), because there has been some sort of frustration or disagreement that has led to name-calling or pushing and shoving.  Our student at Tomsett are wonderful, and as such, are usually very receptive to working things out with each other.  When I first began as a vice-principal (2005), Gary McBride modelled the technique that I will outline below and it is the one that I continue to use, as it seems to work.  Whether Gary learned it from someone else or from a book is unknown, so I may not have credited the original source.  Parents may want to use this same technique at home with children at home - I use it with my own children.

It begins with a problem.  For example, one child has taken a playground ball away from another child.  This has led to name calling and eventualy pushing back-and-forth.

Both children come into the office.  When the students are calm and ready to talk, we begin:

1. One person speaks first and is uninterrupted by the other one.  The other child is asked to listen.  If the child tries to interrupt, I let them know they will have their chance to speak.

2. Once the first child finishes, the roles reverse and the other student gets to tell their side of the story.  When most of us are frustrated or angry, we want the other person to hear what we are saying / hear our point of view.  This provides students with that opportunity.

3. When this person finishes, I begin to unpack the problem by attaching feelings to the actions.  "When he/she took the ball away from you, how did it make you feel?"  The person states something like "I felt sad when he/she took the ball away from me".  We are very specific about what the person did and how it made the other person feel.

4. The person who is listening is then asked "What did the person just say?"  If the other person cannot say it back, then they were not listening, and we do it again, and again, until the person can state what they did and how it made the other person feel.  It is important the we be heard, and by attaching feelings, it provides an opportunity to ask "Did you mean to make this person feel this way?"  Usually the answer is "no".  We want to bring to the forefront that our actions impact others - something that is usually challenging for young children to do.

5. Now comes the apology, the person who, in this case took the ball says, "I'm sorry for taking the ball and making you feel sad".

6. Most times, the person receiving the apology says "that's okay", a conditioned response we all tend to use when someone has upset us.  We always use this as a teachable moment to say "It's not okay".  We teach the child to say "thank you for saying sorry / thank you for your apology" and to also say, "please do not do it again".  It also lets both students know that I heard the request and the other person, if they mean what they say, should make sure it does not happen again.

7. We then go back-and-forth between both students until we have unpacked the problem and have talked about what could we do differently next time.  If there is more that two children involved, we unpack it with each pair, not usually as a whole group (unless it is something minor).

One other very important piece that I have added is providing the student with the opportunity to fix the problem going forward - and opportunity to keep their word and an opportunity to change their behaviour, without having to involve parents.  We have to give our kids the opporytunity to learn from their mistakes and to practise the skills we try to impart on them. Often we are too quick to come to the rescue, and the non-verbal message that is sent is "mom and/or dad will fix all my problems", which does not prepare our kids for the future.

Teaching students to use their words and express their feelings before being physical with each other is an important step in building a respectful school community.

Updated: Tuesday, November 30, 2021