How to teach Kids Problem-solving

Today Leon and Peter had a disagreement about a rake. The boys had new plastic buckets and corresponding plastic shovels and rakes. I watched the three of them play in a tight circle, raking and scooping dirt into their buckets.

Suddenly, Leon began glaring at Peter, and Peter slowly backed away and sat alone behind the park structure. Leon kept saying that Peter had broken his rake.  Carlos and I didn’t really see what had happened. Carlos thought maybe Leon had taken Peter’s rake and remembered where another rake was. He went to get it and gave it to Peter.

Peter revived, but now Leon was very upset. He began to cry and said “Peter broke my rake”. He clearly wanted the nice rake that Carlos had just given to Peter and felt he deserved it since Peter had broken his rake.

Peter was sitting on my lap at this point, and Leon approached us, furiously glaring at Peter. He stared at Peter, with one hand clenched tightly in a fist.

I knew I had to intervene because Leon looked like he about to attack Peter. I put into action the skills I’ve been learning from How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7 (affiliate link, at no extra cost to you).

“Leon, you look upset”.

Leon: [silently glaring at Peter, gives no response]

Me: “Are you mad because Peter broke your rake?”

Leon: [nods his head]

Me: “You want Peter to give you his nice new rake because he broke your rake?”

Leon: [nods his head, still glaring]

Me: “Peter, Leon wants you to give him your rake because he’s mad you broke his. Do you want to give him your rake?”

Peter: [shakes his head no]

Me: “Can you think of another way to make him happy since you broke his rake?”

Peter: [shakes his head no]

I keep repeating variations on the same questions. Observing (“Leon, you look upset”). Brainstorming (“Hmm, what can we do?”) I’m trying to give them the words so that one day they can resolve conflict on their own. How many times have you seen kids that immediately run to the nearest adult whenever a disagreement arises?

I’m purposely not judging or making the decision for them. I could just demand, “Peter, give him your rake” or “Leon, this is Peter’s rake, leave him alone”, but I want them to learn how to do this.

We’re at an impasse, and I’m running out of different ways to say the same thing. I’m totally out of ideas and wondering how long I can keep this up. Suddenly, with no warning, Leon runs off and grabs a shovel. He presents it to Peter, and Peter hands him the rake.

Wow! Problem-solved! Good work boys! They immediately ran off together and finished the important work of scratching in the dirt.

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