September 16, 2011


Teacher Tom’s 8-Step Plan for Learning Through Conflict For 2-Year-Olds

1)  Stay calm.

2)  Use your superior physical strength to stop the hitting. Get your body between the children and hold both them in place. Say something like, "Hitting hurts people. I can't let you hurt your friends." Try to stick with statements of fact. Commands like, "No hitting!" are fine, but not ideal because they send the message, You shouldn't hit because an authority figure says so. We want them to develop self-control. If a child is clearly hurt (blood, visible marks, uncontrollable crying) get another adult (the child's parent if possible) to attend to that child. If you are the parent of the child who has hit someone, it's usually best to turn things over to another adult if that's possible.

3)  Normally, however, no one is very hurt and normally there is a clear offender. Keep both parties proximate, even if that requires using some "physical force." (I've found that a gentle arm around the waist usually works, but will firmly hold an arm if a child is trying to get away.)  I know that sometimes it's impossible to keep both parties present, but I always try to at least trot the offender through the following steps, if only to re-enforce that one of the consequences of their behavior is the "inquiry."

4)  Describe what you know to be true (e.g., "Susie is crying," "I saw you take that from him," "You hurt her.").

5)  Draw the connection between cause and effect (e.g., "Susie is crying because you hit her," "Johnny is mad because you took that from him," "She screamed because you hurt her.")

6)  Now is the most difficult part: stop talking and wait. Let the children fill up that dead air. It sometimes takes awhile, especially for boys, to find words. It's during this time that children will often spontaneously "apologize" by returning the taken item or attempting to hug their crying friend. This is a genuine 2-year-old apology. If it happens, you're done, but it’s rare so don't count on it. Take this time to read their facial and body language -- it's usually very easy with 2-year-olds. If the "victim" is ready to move on, let 'em roam. This child has learned an important lesson: life is not fair, but there is often justice. (Remember, there are times we teach from facts and times we teach from intention.) Sometimes the offender is moved to tears -- another version of a genuine 2-year-old apology.

7)  Respond to whatever the offender says (even if they are trying to change the subject) by repeating what you know to be true and by drawing the connection between cause and effect. If the child clearly isn't paying attention, try asking clear yes-or-no questions (e.g., "Do you like to be hit?" "Are you going to hit your friends?" "Are you going to take things from your friends?"). Two-year-olds tend to be pretty honest. If they say they will not hit their friends then consider it a lesson learned even if it only "takes" for a few minutes. If they say "yes" they will hit their friends (and I've had many children admit to this), then tell them, "Then I'll have to hold you until I know you won't hit your friends." After a few minutes ask the question again and repeat until you finally get a "no."

8)  For me, that's the end of it, but there are many who don't consider the process complete without a formal apology. I won't go into why I'm not a fan of the artificial adult-sponsored, "I'm sorry." An apology that is offered merely out of social convention, rather than out of genuine remorse, just doesn't sit well with me. Besides, I've watched too many conflicts between children get diverted into a conflict between parent and child as the former insists on the word "sorry" and the child refuses. But if you want your child to say, "I'm sorry," I won't judge you.

FROM the AMAZING Teacher Tom

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