interview of Betsy at www.bamradionetwork.com, click on “Five
Tested Tips for Resolving Conflicts Among Young Children”
THE RECORDER, December 14, 2007 By
Richie Davis, Recorder Staff
THE RECORDER, January 7, 2004 By Richie Davis, Recorder Staff
EL MERCURIO, Santiago, Chile
December, 20 2004
December 14, 2007
By Richie Davis, Recorder Staff
Conflict resolution a long road in
Participants from 6
Arab countries sing together on the last day of conflict resolution
training in Beirut.
The car bomb attack that killed one of
Lebanon's top generals on Wednesday was foreshadowed by the kind of
military presence everywhere around Beirut that Betsy Evans of Gill
saw there before returning home Saturday from a conflict-resolution
conference where she was training school personnel.
The tension that runs deep not only in Lebanon, but throughout much of
the Mideast, presented a special problem for Evans, who has worked as
a conflict-resolution specialist for three decades
''The real irony is the huge number of people there who want something
very different from what's happening,'' said Evans, who taught
strategies at the five-day Arab Resource Collective workshop to 40
principals, teachers, sociologists, and refugee camp coordinators from
Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Sudan and Yemen.
The producer of three books and two videos on conflict resolution in
the schools said tanks were parked every few blocks around the capital
city, and soldiers with weapons drawn stood on street corners because
of the yearlong political crisis and the power vacuum created by the
inability to fill the presidential vacancy that has existed since Nov.
Although ordinary people in Lebanon try to go about their business and
seem determined to avoid conflict, Evans said, the reality is that the
tensions themselves are so pronounced that there's a growing movement
to teach children the skills needed to resolve differences verbally.
''It's a big effort and a big demand,'' said the founding teacher of
Giving Tree School. In each of the countries represented at the
conference, ''They want to have their children have this ability. The
contrast was very stark.''
In Palestinian refugee camps, where classes are held in crammed
basements without heat, air conditioning or even electricity, the
arguments are over the scarcity of materials and lack of space, as
well as over whose religion is best --''the same conflicts we have
everywhere,'' Evans said.
''What they've experienced are authoritarian responses to conflict, as
well as avoidance, so they act out.''
Presenters at the workshop, including representatives from Save the
Children, spoke about children's self-esteem and shared peace-building
activities and discussed what level of participation by children is
justified in a region where women and children may be forced to
participate in protests that turn violent or to go onto rooftops to
The blast that killed Brig. Gen. Francois Hajj was the first such
attack against the Lebanese army, which has remained neutral in
Lebanon's yearlong political crisis and is widely seen as the only
force that can hold the country together amid the bitter infighting
between parliament's rival factions.
The political divisions have paralyzed the government and prevented
the election of a president, leaving the post empty since Nov. 23 in a
dangerous power vacuum. Under Lebanon's sectarian division of
political posts, the president must be a Maronite Catholic, like the
The greatest need in regions of conflict, Evans said, is to provide a
sense of safety for children.
One woman attending the workshop from Baghdad told Evans about
well-meaning U.S. soldiers who bring coloring books and crayons into
Iraqi schools, not realizing that merely the sight of uniformed troops
with weapons can terrify young children who have been traumatized by
''They shake. They wet their pants,'' said Evans, explaining that
there need to be ''safe zones'' for these children, who can't grasp
the subtleties of these good intentions.
''Children can't learn under those circumstances.''
The same Iraqi school administrator said the young pupils she sees are
grappling with a culture where there has been no real reconstruction,
where there has been an outbreak of cholera.
''It was very emotional for me,'' said Evans, who has done training
sessions around the United States as well as Great Britain, Mexico,
Chile and Northern Ireland.
''The most striking thing for me is that no matter where I've taught
this, people have a need for peaceful strategies.''
You can reach Richie Davis at
firstname.lastname@example.org or (413)
772-0261 Ext. 269
Is This Problem Solved?
Betsy Evans, 54 Wood Ave, Gill, MA 01376, Betsy@KidsandConflict.com
Is This Problem Solved?
The Answer is Yes and the Mediator is Five Years Old
It was Morning Meeting in a Massachusetts YMCA kindergarten program for low-income families. A very diverse group of 5 year olds greeted each other, sang a song, and discussed bits of news. Job helpers were being chosen and Anonda’s name was picked first. She picked “Problem Solver” and stuck her name on the green crayon, next to the ever-popular “Line Leader”. Other jobs were picked and then the children moved on to their chosen learning activities throughout the room.
During this time of the day, as well as others, children had experienced adult-mediated conflict resolution many times. The shift of the job of mediator from adults to the children occurred as a mutual decision amongst the adults and children - it was agreed that the children were ready for the role of mediator. Consequently a new choice was added to the Helper Chart - the job of “Problem Solver”. This new job had immediately become one of the most popular to choose – definitely more popular than “Door Holder” or “Lunch Helper”, and oodles more popular than “Caboose” (end of the line door-closer).
On this sunny spring day, Anonda had chosen to be “Problem Solver”. Here’s what happened.
Jonas and Tyrese were busy in the Block Area, building an elaborate staging area for animals and people, surrounded by four walls with ramps. They zoomed cars up the block ramps where they fell off the ends and crashed into the animals and people. Jonas became distracted by a homemade shopping game he noticed on one of the tables, and he drifted out of the area for a few minutes. After matching grocery cards to items in the “store”, he turned back to his block building only to find that Tyrese had knocked down one of his walls. He glared silently in Tyrese’s direction, leaning gloomily on one of the block shelves. Tyrese did not appear to notice him or the fallen wall.
In my role as Behavior Consultant* for this early childhood program, my focus on this day was to support the children’s problem-solving abilities. I approached Jonas, knelt down near him, and said quietly, “Jonas, you look upset.” He nodded yes. “Do you have a problem?” He nodded again. “It looks like you need the Problem Solver.” He immediately turned around looking for Anonda. He spotted her with a small group, listening to their teacher, Pam, read a story. He went to her. “Anonda, I have a problem.” She got up, solemnly went over to a nearby shelf, and picked up the Problem-Solver clipboard. The page clipped there had a list of four problem-solving sentences with child-made symbols next to them. Since the children were beginning readers, the symbols they had created helped them to remember what to say (see the Problem-solving Steps below).
Without adult support or prompting, Anonda moved to the center of the Block Area and stood near the block structure, between Tyrese and Jonas. She turned to Tyrese and with a soft but confident voice, she said, “Tyrese, stop. What’s the problem?” (the first sentence on her clipboard, symbolized by a red STOP sign shape and a question mark).
He looked up at her blankly, unaware that there was a problem. She paused a few seconds and then turned to Jonas, “Jonas, what’s the problem?”
Jonas responded in an agitated voice, “He knocked over my wall and he’s not fixing it!”
Anonda hesitated, appearing unsure about what to do next. Jonas gently leaned over and pointed to the next sentence on the clipboard (symbolized by a green STOP sign shape). Anonda quickly responded and said to Jonas, “So what you’re saying is that you don’t like it that he knocked over your wall.”
Tyrese, listening to these exchanges, looked over at Jonas.
Jonas replied, again with agitation, “No! What I’m saying is that I want him to fix it!”
Tyrese quickly began to restack the wall blocks, saying, “I’m fixing it! I’m fixing it!”
Anonda and Jonas watched for a few seconds. She now had no need for the next sentence, ‘What can you do to solve this problem?” (symbolized by 2 faces and a bubble with the word “talk”). Anonda moved on to the last sentence (symbolized by a smiley face). She said to Jonas, “Is this problem solved?”
“Yes,” said Jonas calmly, as he watched Tyrese re-constructing the wall.
Anonda turned to Tyrese, “Is this problem solved, Tyrese?”
Tyrese nodded yes as he continued to stack blocks.
Anonda placed the clipboard back on the shelf and rejoined the story group. As she arrived there, her teacher said to her, “You helped them to solve their problem, Anonda!” She nodded, smiling shyly, and sat down. The story time continued.
Later the adults reported to me, “The job of solving problems in this classroom just got a whole lot easier.”
Here are the steps the Kindergarten children used. They are recommended for grades K and older who have seen adults model the mediation steps. If you decide to try this in your classroom have the children make up their own symbols.
*Behavior Consultant: With the support of the local Community Partnerships for Children, all the teachers in this YMCA program had been trained by me in the six Problem-solving Steps, and I had later supported implementation with observation and feedback in my role as Behavior Consultant. The teachers had consistently encouraged children to come up with solutions to conflicts. As a result, many of the children in the Kindergarten class had not only engaged in problem-solving as 5 year olds, but also in their earlier years. They were familiar with the problem-solving dialogue and had many varied experiences with conflicts and solutions. Over time the children had come to trust the process. Children quickly learn that feelings and ideas are respected during problem solving, and soon their emotions no longer escalate to an intense level during conflicts. Consequently the job of mediation becomes less difficult. The job of mediator was a natural progression for this Kindergarten class; they had become experts at coming up with solutions, and now, independently, they were becoming experts at guiding their peers as they created solutions to everyday problems.
For more information, write to Betsy@KidsandConflict.com
Director, Pearson Teacher Fellowship
Jumpstart for Young Children
In helping prepare
newly graduated college students to teach preschool in low-income
communities through the Pearson Teacher Fellowship program, Betsy Evans’
book, You Can’t Come to My Birthday Party!, has become an
invaluable resource. From the step-by-step conflict resolution process
itself to the numerous verbatim examples that are included, this book is
a must-read for anyone working with young children. By giving new
teachers actual language to try out when dealing with difficult conflict
situations, they are better able to implement the whole conflict
resolution process and put the problem-solving control into the
children’s hands. More importantly, Betsy helps new teachers understand
that like any academic skill, conflict resolution can be learned only
through numerous experiences, guided and facilitated by a caring adult
who understands the importance of allowing children to practice and
learn to use these skills on their own.
Betsy’s passion and
belief in the capabilities of young children shine through in this
engaging book so that you, too, move from dreading conflict to embracing
it as an essential learning opportunity for children and adults alike.
Mediator and Conflict Resolution Trainer
Founder of Franklin Mediation Service (now The Mediation and Training
Collaborative of Greenfield, MA)
Author of “Rethinking Mediation: Living Peacefully in a Multi-Cultural
If you get nothing else
from You Can’t Come to My Birthday Party! but hope from
the author’s statement, “…I discovered not only that dealing with
conflict could be a satisfying and enjoyable part of teaching, but also
that children, when given support, were enormously capable problem
solvers”, then you will have gotten your money’s worth. Most of us
respond to conflict with avoidance or authoritarianism. Few of us are
innate problem solvers. No wonder “conflict” has such a bad reputation.
Evans, through many
photos and rich stories of children engaging is problem solving,
demonstrates an approach that includes a six-step mediation process that
works. It helps to resolve the difficulty, it helps children learn to
respect and understand differences, it helps children learn how to
handle conflicts in positive and successful ways, and it is satisfying
for both the children and their adult supporters.
Evans postulates that
many conflicts stem from children and adults’ efforts to express and
react to strong feelings. The author offers varied, innovative, and
creative strategies for recognizing and responding to children’s strong
emotions during conflicts. Absent this recognition, it is unlikely the
problem solving would occur. Although conflict is natural and
inevitable, Evans also presents concrete suggestions for creating an
environment that reduces the likelihood of disputes.
Through theory and
practical applications, Evans has given tools to those of us who find
ourselves in conflicts, observing conflicts, trying to prevent conflicts
and trying to resolve conflicts.
RECORDER, January 7, 2004
By Richie Davis, Recorder Staff
Top of her field in
Toddler teacher says even little ones can learn to resolve disputes
GILL- The toddlers are
barely up to your knees, but already they sound like they’re facing big
Ian and Carl are
4-year-olds happily playing with trucks in their preschool’s block area.
Then Ian moves over to Carl and grabs for his toy truck.
“I want this!” he says,
and a conflict erupts.
Anyone who’s been
around young children for more than a couple of minutes knows how
quickly a moment of blissful play can erupt into a verbal or nonverbal
argument – often with plenty of screaming, crying and maybe even
But by carefully
watching and listening, you discover how deeply these spats are felt by
children – maybe even shaping the way they deal with conflict throughout
Betsy Evans has taken
the time to observe in her 30 years in early childhood education – most
of it as founding lead teacher and director of The Giving Tree preschool
in Gill. Now the president of the 28-year-old preschool, Evans is also
the author of a book, as well as the director of two videos, on how
parents and teachers can help children settle conflicts. The point isn’t
to just halt the meltdown of the moment, but that every problem-solving
experience can be as important as any other lesson. Rather than solving
conflicts for children, Evans advises it is best to guide them through
solving it for themselves.
“absolutely normal, healthy good stuff,” said Evans, who had seen plenty
of it in the classroom, and who recently returned from training Mexican
teachers in resolution techniques that closely resemble mediation. “It’s
how we respond to it.”
After the first seven
years of gathering examples of how even toddlers can be effective at
resolving disputes, Evans said, “I was astounded by the stories I was
A favorite involves an
18-month-old English boy named Tom, who began crying when his mother
went to the closet to get a stroller so they could walk to the store.
“No! No stroller!” the
boy cried to her. Calmly she knelt down and consoled her son. “You’re so
upset. You really don’t want to go in the stroller, do you?”
As he began calming
down, the mother – who’d been trained in mediation – told her son, “You
know, Tom, I think we have a problem. I can’t carry you to the store,
and it’s too far for you to walk. What do you think we should do?”
Since he had no
solution, she suggested, “I have an idea. Do you want to hear it? You
can get in the stroller yourself or I can put you in. Which do you
“Me do it,” Tom
Evans explained, “If we
can give children choices, it helps them to be a participant in the
It wasn’t too long
before the same woman had an identical experience with her second,
16-month-old, son. As she summoned up the strength to show the same
empathy to Jack, she heard his now 3-year-old brother, Tom, tell him,
“Jack, we have a problem. Mommy can’t carry you all the way. Do you want
Mommy to put you in the stroller, or do you want to get in the stroller
yourself?” Jack hopped in the stroller.
Evans – author of “You
Can’t Come to My Birthday Party! Conflict Resolution With Young Children
(2002: High/Scope Educational Research Foundation) and video script
author and director of “It’s Mine! Responding to Problems and Conflicts”
(2002) and “Supporting Young Children in Resolving Conflicts” (1998) –
trains teachers and administrators at schools, preschools and day-care
centers around the United States, Great Britain and Mexico. She has done
workshops for the Family Resource Center in Greenfield and Deerfield
Public Schools, as well as working as a behavioral consultant for
Fitchburg Public Schools.
A graduate of Skidmore
College and the University of Massachusetts, Evans trained in the
Michigan-based High/Scope Foundation’s program as well as the Mediation
and Training Collaborative adult mediation program in Greenfield.
“I use her book as a
resource,” said Cheryl Fox, a trainer at the Mediation and Training
Collaborative, which also trains preschool staff in mediating conflicts.
It wasn’t until her
sister was assaulted in Chicago that Evans began to connect her years of
dealing with classroom conflicts with the larger issue of violence in
society. Where does violence begin? How do children learn to respond to
“As soon as children
can nod their head ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and have any receptive language, they
can begin to process the idea that there’s a problem, that somebody else
has needs and wants,” Evans said. “To my amazement, they can even
In a New York City
classroom, Evans watched a dispute start up between two 3-year-old boys
over a block.
“I don’t like you! You
can’t come to my birthday party!” one boy, Fabian, emphasized to the
A teacher interceded,
trying to calm the situation and validating the feelings of the boys,
who already had been through the process in their class. Taking the
block away to neutralize the situation, the teacher told them, “It
sounds like we have a problem,” – a trigger for them to try to help by
coming up with their own remedy.
“I know,” said Fabian:
“ I can have it for 24 hours, and then Sean can have a turn.”
“No!” said Sean.
“That’s too long!”
“How about 23 hours?”
was Fabian’s counteroffer.
“Ok,” said Sean. He
handed the block to Fabian, who returned it to Sean after a few minutes
Evans, whose work has
focused on everyday classroom and family conflicts, and especially to
helping children identify and name their feelings, said it’s important
that adults support ideas the children offer through their words and
“Their solutions may
sound unjust or unrealistic to adults, but it’s an emerging skill,” she
said. Toddler diplomacy plays a valuable role in and of itself. “My hope
for them is they’ll see all of the possibilities that are there.”
The creative ideas that
children offer can be “startling,” and bring a new perspective that
adults may not have even thought of, said Evans. And the extra time it
takes is not time wasted.
“Very often teachers
think, ‘If I could just now have all these conflicts, I’d have much more
learning time,’” she said. “In fact almost everything children need to
learn can be in this moment: classification, numbers, maybe even
writing. It’s teaching a life skill.”
In fact, often the most
creative peer mediators in elementary school settings are the same
children who had been pegged as bullies when they were younger, Evans
said. They’ve channeled their provocative behavior into a helpful role
where they’re attuned to the feelings of peers.
In Mexico City, where
Evans recently offered a 12 hour training for teachers, she heard a
child who’d brought her own new-found problem-solving ability home to
help her parents when the couple was embroiled in a heated argument.
“Mom and Dad,” she told them in a way that soon had an impact on the
family, “I think we have a problem.”
You can reach Richie Davis at
email@example.com or 413 772-0261, ext. 269
So What Is Peace?
Betsy Evans, 54 Wood Ave, Gill, MA 01376,
In this time of
constant reports of car bombings, kidnappings, and other acts of
violence and war, children are absorbing information and trying to
construct their own idea of its meaning. Despite the efforts of even the
most cautious parents, the extent of children’s knowledge is often
disturbing. Children watch the adult world closely, as one can easily
learn by joining their conversations at meals, snacks, or on the
In my days as a teacher
in the preschool classroom, one of my favorite daily events was snack
time, partly because I share children’s love of graham crackers, carrot
sticks, and bits of fruit, but mostly because of the conversation.
Preschool children can discuss with equal passion what superheroes
REALLY wear, how loud their dads snore, and where cats go when they die,
all while munching crackers happily.
One day during snack
the children’s conversation turned to words and their definitions. It
began with the word war and what it meant. The children quickly
offered definitions: “It’s when people kill each other.” “It’s a lot of
fighting.” “It’s people shooting.” “People get dead in war.” There
seemed to be considerable awareness of war and I became concerned to
know if they understood the word peace as clearly. In
anticipation of their possible responses, I took paper and a marker from
a nearby shelf, and asked, “So what is peace?”
Three 4-year-old boys,
Thad, Ryan, and Ezra, were very interested in the question. Their
answers came slowly, thoughtfully, their inspiration extending from one
boy to the next, as their ideas became a spontaneous poem. Although at
first the boys’ words did not come as rapidly as the words that had
defined war, as they talked they became more and more specific
and increasingly pleased with their vision of peace. As they munched on
carrot sticks, this is what they said:
Peace is not shooting.
Is not killing
Is not throwing litter.
Peace is eating healthy
Is being silly.
Is not breaking glass.
Is not walking in the
house with muddy boots.
Peace is not stealing
Is not pulling
somebody’s hair out.
Is giving someone a
Is giving someone
something to eat if they are homeless.
Is playing peaceful and
sharing toys and something real tasty.
Peace is playing
As they finished with
the last contribution to the list, it reminded all of us that it was, in
fact, time to go outside. I thought this was the end of the discussion
so I hung up our extemporaneous peace poem by the table and we went out.
As the boys were running to the playground, one of them shouted, “Let’s
find a peaceful place!” They found a shallow dip in the yard, a little
grassy crater that fit all three of them cozily. They lay on their backs
in this little hollow, watching the clouds float by. “This is peace,” I
heard one of them say.
As we endure the daily
images and ongoing definitions of the horrors of war, let’s remember to
find relief and energy as the children did, seeking new definitions for
peace and fresh places to enjoy peaceful moments. Let’s do it because
the children are watching.
Betsy is the author of
You Can’t Come to My Birthday Party! Conflict Resolution With Young
Children, High/Scope Press, 2002. She grew up in Vermont and now
lives in Gill, Massachusetts.
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