When interpersonal conflicts arise among students, children need peaceful
solutions. I know that some parents encourage children to defend themselves
physically. But teachers can’t be in position to referee fistfights. For
that reason, many teachers encourage children to solve their problems by
using their words. In this way, we keep our hands, feet, and objects to
Parents have told me that when children learn to use problem-solving techniques
successfully at school, it frequently carries over to use with siblings.
The goal is for children to be able to solve their disputes without adult
intervention. In any event, parents, teachers, classmates, and siblings
benefit when children are empowered in this way.
The first step in the process is the statement of displeasure: “I don’t
like it when you take my pencil.”
Then comes the statement for the desired outcome: “I want you to give it
back to me.”
It is sometimes helpful to ask, “Why are you doing this?” or “What do you
I sometimes see that when a child comes to me with a problem (“Johnny scratched
me.”), the complainer tells me he has no idea why it happened. When I work
with the children, I often find out that Johnny scratched Mikey because
Mikey took Johnny’s toy. Mikey conveniently forgot what he had done to
I do not ask children to apologize to each other after an altercation.
In my experience, children are usually not sorry about what they did. If
they are not sorry, what would be the point in making them say that they
are? I don’t want to make the situation worse by asking them to lie.
Instead of a focus on the incident that has already happened, I prefer
a commitment toward future positive behavior, such as a promise not
to hit again or to solve the next situation with words. I explain that
I expect them to keep their wordto me, just as I keep my word when I make
promises to them. In this way, we bring an honorable closure to a tough
This column has been incorporated into Teach Your Children Well: A Teacher’s
Advice for Parents.