Last year I had one of those kids that is a natural born leader but, who could also be a bit of a bully because things always had to be his way. After just a couple of weeks, I got a call from the parent of another child who said that her son was upset because "Tom" always told him what to do. I decided to introduce a modified version of the Kelso's Choices program that I had used in the school district where I had previously taught. Kelso's Choices is a conflict resolution program that helps kids handle "small problems" on their own instead of going directly to the teacher to tattle.
There are two things I like about Kelso's program. The first is that the program begins by discussing the difference between big problems (where someone or something is being hurt or might be hurt or where the child feels scared) and small problems (such as a friend not sharing or a friend cutting in line). If there is a big problem, the students should tell a grownup right away (and getting help isn’t tattling). For a couple days, we spent a few minutes during Circle Time just getting good at identifying big and small problems. I started out by naming a problem and having the kids tell me if it was a big or small problem. The kids also suggested problems that they thought were examples of big or small problems. The kids were very good at this but I think it is really important that teachers explicitly talk with how we expect children to handle different types of problems.
The second thing that I like about the program is that it tells the children that they have 9 different choices about how they handle small, kid-sized problems. I started the discussion of choices by telling the children that they are smart enough and old enough to try to resolve small conflicts by themselves. Kelso's 9 choices for how to handle small problems are:
Talk it Out
Share and Take Turns
Tell Them To Stop
Make a Deal
Wait and Cool Off
Go To Another GameThey sound repetitive don't they? But that is the beauty of this program. I think parents and teachers are very quick to tell a child to "ignore him or her" if someone is teasing them or "play with something else" if someone is bossing them around. What the child hears is "Do Nothing." While we, as adults, know that ignoring a teaser is a quick way to make the teasing stop, it's hard for children to see this as anything other than letting the "injustice" continue. Kelso's Choices encourages children to make affirmative choices about how they will handle a problem. Children are also told that they should try two different strategies before getting an adult involved.
I introduced each choice by describing a problem; for example, "Cindy keeps touching you during Circle Time." I then have one child come up and be Cindy and another come up and model the response we are talking about. At first I was very involved as the "director" saying for example, "turn and look at Cindy and say in a strong voice 'please stop touching me'." After we role played all the different ways to handle different problems, I started just suggesting problems and asking volunteers to act out how they could handle the situation. We talked about the choice that was illustrated and then 2 other students acted out a different way of handling the conflict.
My class loved the role playing and we continued to spend a few minutes each day acting out problems and solutions for a week or two (and would occasionally go back to it throughout the year). I briefly described the program to parents in my weekly newsletter and sent home a copy of the Kelso's Choices Poster that was displayed in our classroom. The website with information about Kelso's Choices is here. When I first bought the program, you couldn't just buy the poster. I see that you now can and in my pre-K class that is the only part of the program that I really used. While I would really recommend the program for whole schools (it is so nice when expectations are consistent throughout a school), the poster, together with role-playing instruction, worked wonderfully for me.
In fact, little "Tom" went on to have a really good year...his friends' use of different strategies (especially "go to another game" and "make a deal") when he was too bossy helped him be a much nicer friend. I also got several emails from parents telling me how successfully they were using Kelso's Choices in their own homes. There are great videos that were made by Bassett Elementary School in Virginia that show kids role playing here and lots of materials available if you google Kelso's Choices.
I titled this post "Helping Children Stand Up For Themselves," because I think that teaching children that they themselves can make choices that will help them handle problems is, in fact, very empowering.