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THE RECORDER, December 14, 2007
By Richie Davis, Recorder Staff

Conflict resolution a long road in Lebanon


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. 23.

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 deter bombing.

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 army commander.

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 war.

''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 rdavis@recorder.com or (413) 772-0261 Ext. 269

Is This Problem Solved?
Betsy Evans, 54 Wood Ave, Gill, MA 01376, Betsy@KidsandConflict.com
413 863-2464

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

 

By Jessica Bonner
Director, Pearson Teacher Fellowship
Jumpstart for Young Children
8/17/04

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.

Cate Woolner
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 World”
8/03/03

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.

THE RECORDER, January 7, 2004
By Richie Davis, Recorder Staff

Top of her field in conflict resolution
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 problems.

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 hitting.

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 life.

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.

Conflicts are “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 hearing.”

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 want?”

“Me do it,” Tom answered.

Evans explained, “If we can give children choices, it helps them to be a participant in the process.”

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 conflict?

“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 indicate solutions.”

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 other, Sean.

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 of playing.

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 gestures.

“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 rdavis@recorder.com or 413 772-0261, ext. 269

So What Is Peace?   
Betsy Evans, 54 Wood Ave, Gill, MA 01376, Betsy@KidsandConflict.com
413 863-2464

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 playground.

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 quiet.
Is not killing anything.
Is not throwing litter.
Peace is eating healthy stuff.
Is being silly.
Is not breaking glass.
Is not walking in the house with muddy boots.
Peace is not stealing money.
Is not pulling somebody’s hair out.
Is giving someone a present.
Is giving someone something to eat if they are homeless.
Is playing peaceful and sharing toys and something real tasty.
Peace is playing outside together.

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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You're Not My Friend Anymore!
Betsy Evans
Soft Cover
104 pages
Catalog #: N-P1389
Price: $15.95

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HighScope

   

You Can't Come to My Birthday Party!
Betsy Evans
Soft cover, photos
432 pages
Catalog # N-P1171
Price: $34.95

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I Want All the Turns!
Betsy Evans
Color, 90 minutes
(2 DVDs)
ISBN: 978-1-57379-679-8
Price: $95.00

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