Amazing Alternative to Time-Out: Doing Conflict Resolution with Kids

image from internet
"What??" you say...  "What's wrong with time-out?!  Why do I need an alternative to it?!  Everybody uses time-outs."
Well those are all the things I thought too.

During the fall of 2009 I took a course designed for ECE (Early Childhood Education) teachers.  It was a course entirely on behavior.  The course was the single best class I have ever taken (that is coming from someone who loved almost every education class she's had).  Every human being who comes in contact with a child should take this class but since that is not possible I want to share some of the amazing techniques we learned here on my blog.

So I will get back to the point.  Why do we need alternatives to time-out?  What is wrong with time-out in the first place?

Here is a scenario using time-out as the method.

Using Time-Out might look like this:
Suzie and Anna are playing with a doll together.
Anna takes the doll and hits Suzie with it.
You see this happen and go to them saying "Anna you hurt Suzie so you need to go sit in time-out."

I used to think that time-out was a good technique because it gives the child a time and place to return to a calm state and yes, time to think about how they shouldn't do what they just did.
We discussed this in our class.  First of all, most kids don't think about their actions while in time out, they just stew or get totally distracted and forget why they are sitting there.  Secondly, sure calm is good but there are other ways to calm a child without removing them from the situation.
The reasons that we learned that time-out is not the ideal method to use is that it:
1) doesn't teach the child(ren) any new skills.
2) is not connected or relevant to what they did.
3) is a negative way to deal with a problem.

So here it is, an amazing alternative (and I will cover more alternatives in other blog posts in the future).  This is a very specific version of conflict resolution.  Our teacher referred to it as "Problem Solving Through Exploring Alternatives."  It can be done with any age 1 to 101.  It is good for any situation where there is conflict among a pair or group of kids and it can also be used when a single child is met with a frustrating situation and needs some help figuring out a better way to go about it (I use this a lot with my own older child when she is frustrated over something that she is trying to do).  Here is how you do it.  Note:  It maybe helpful to watch the video clip first - see *below.

Using this specific conflict resolution method:
Suzie and Anna are playing with a doll together.
Anna takes the doll and hits Suzie with it.
You see this happen and go over.

  1. Sit down on the floor.  Or do whatever you can to get as low or lower than the children who are involved.  This in itself has an extremely de-escalating effect on children or individuals that are in a heightened state.
  2. While you are getting down to a low level also assess the situation for safety.
  3. As long as everyone is safe say in a very calm voice "I see a problem over here."
  4. Then pause and say "I am going to take this toy and keep it safe while we talk."  Doing this makes the toy/item (if there is an item) neutral.  Leaving it in one of the children's hands gives that child more power over the other child.
  5. The next thing you say is "Can you tell me what the problem is?"  At this point a great option is to grab a pencil and paper and write down everything they say from here on in (very empowering and engaging for the children).  This is where the method can differ depending on the age you are dealing with.  If you are dealing with a 1 year old then you make it simple.  Say you see there is a problem and then name what you think the problem is and tell them you have an idea in how to fix the problem.  They can't be as involved since they don't yet know how to talk but you can model the method anyway.
  6. Write down what each of the children says the problem is.
  7. Now ask "What do you think we can do about the problem?"
  8. Write down ALL ideas and only respond to each idea with "That's an idea!" nothing more for now.  Even if they give an unsafe or silly idea, still say "That's an idea!" and write it down.
  9. Once you have a few ideas (and you can add your own in there) read them back and together pick an idea that works for everyone involved.
  10. After the idea is played out come back and check a few minutes later to make sure things are going fine.
Now you might think I'm CRAZY because that is a seemingly long method.  Once you watch the video below you'll realize it isn't hard or too involved.  The fact is that when you see how BEAUTIFULLY it works with kids that you NEVER thought it was going to work with... you'll be in love with it.  Yup it takes more than just saying "go to time-out" but to that I say parenting/teaching isn't supposed to be taking the easy or short way out of things.  This method addresses the actual issue and gives the kids total power over fixing their problem without shaming anyone.  It teaches them real skills in dealing with problems and the more you use this technique the faster and easier it is each time.  After a while you have kids that can define and deal with a problem with little or no adult help.  Here it is in short.
  1. sit low
  2. do a safety check
  3. note that you see a problem
  4. kindly take the problem object if there is one
  5. have them define the problem
  6. get paper and pencil and ask/write down problem (optional but very helpful)
  7. ask for solutions to the problem
  8. write all down (without judgement)
  9. read or relay all ideas and pick one together
  10. check back a little while later
*Check it out in action here!

The video I have posted here is one I found that clearly uses the same exact technique.  It is a video of a "High Scope" classroom (High Scope is an early childhood education approach).  We saw other similar footage from the same program during our course.  I am a bit bummed I couldn't find the same clip we saw because it was pretty amazing to watch.  Not only was the teacher in the clip doing an amazing job of helping a group of kids through conflict resolution but he was also translating for them because he was dealing with children who have different first languages... amazing!

Below is the form I made for our classroom.  I printed it on dry erase printer/copier paper and attached it to a clipboard for durability so I could use the form many times over.  I also had a dry erase marker attached to the board with Velcro.
This is broken down a bit differently than above but it is all the same info.

Problem Solving Through Exploring Alternatives
Step 1 ~ Approaching the problem situation:
1.     Come over calmly.
2.     Get down on the same level as the children (or lower).
3.     Address safety hazards (child about to hit another).
4.     Ask for the item that is being fought over if there is one.  This makes the item neutral.
5.     Make sure that all children involved are emotionally ready to talk.
Step 2 ~ Asking about the problem (choices in wording):
1.     “Can you tell me what you think the problem is?”
2.     “What happened here?”
3.     “What is the problem?”
Step 3 ~ Ask the children what they think the solution should be (choices in wording):
1.     “What can we do to fix it?”
2.     “What can we do differently?”
3.     “What can we/you do about this problem?”
4.     “Let’s think about some of the things that you can do about this.”
Step 4* ~ Ask the children to choose the option that is safe and fair for everyone.
*note:  Sometimes there is not an easy choice to pick.  You can ask the children to think about a solution and come back to it at a later time.
Step 5 ~ Check on the children who were having the problem, a few minutes later.  This can be a great time for positive reinforcement.

The Problem
Write the speaker’s initials at the beginning of each comment. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Ideas
Initial each one.  Each time a child gives an idea - do not judge it - simply reply “That’s an idea.” and write it down.

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  1. This is a great idea! when I start teaching, can I have permission to keep you on speed dial?

    1. Ha! Sure! So glad you like the method! It is my favorite one of all the ones we learned.