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Back to Basics

From the Blog of Phyllis G. Pollack.

A few weeks ago, my colleague Maria Simpson, PhD., in her weekly Two Minute Training (February 15, 2011), mentioned a story she had heard the previous day on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition about a pre-school that was teaching conflict resolution to four year olds. Contrary to what occurs in most pre-schools, while these pre-schoolers had lots of energy and were very active, they did not fight, yell or whine.

Intrigued, I hunted down the story on NPR and learned that the school was The Clara Barton Children’s Center in Cabin John, Maryland (, and passed this information on to my colleague.

But, I was still curious about this success of conflict resolution among 4 year olds. So was my colleague as she took up this topic again in her next Two Minute Training column on February 22, 2011. It seems that this school employs a “Solution Kit” provided by the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) at Vanderbilt University ( This “Solution Kit” is simply a poster that, using pictures, shows 10 different ways to end an argument:

1. “Get a teacher” (i.e., use a mediator or a third party objective neutral.);

2. “Ask nicely” (i.e., have a calm non-confrontational conversation about the issue; make it a conversation of curious inquiry, not a cross-examination.);

3. “Ignore” (i.e., don’t react to negative personal attacks ; let them roll off your back, remain focused on the needs and interests of the parties or on the issues; NOT on the person.);

4. “Play together” (i.e., work co-operatively and together to create options by which each party will gain, thereby developing a “win-win” resolution.);

5. “Say “Please Stop”” (i.e., have a discussion about the opposing and/or conflicting underlying needs and interests of each party and how best to meet them; again, focus on the interests of each party and create options that will meet each party’ s needs.)

6. ”Say, “Please”” (i.e. be polite and respectful to the other party; separate the people from the problem – be soft on the person, but hard on the problem.);

7. “Share” (i.e., compromise; do not engage in distributive bargaining in which the goal is that one person wins, and the other loses (zero sum game) but rather engage in integrative bargaining by which both parties “win” by compromising.);

8. “Trade” (i.e., engage in “give and take”. Prioritize your interests and concede issues that may be of little value to you but important to the other party in exchange for ones that ARE important to you but of little value to the other party so that each party obtains what is important to her.);

9. “Wait and Take Turns” (i.e., be patient; actively listen – really listen, and don’t interrupt – to what the other party is saying so that you can understand what are the needs and interests of the other party and thus be able to figure out collaboratively how to meet both her needs and interests and yours.); and

10. “Get a Timer” (i.e., use the element of time as a way to resolve the dispute either by setting a time limit on the discussions which will force the parties to focus and concentrate on the issues: or by setting up a timetable by which certain elements of the resolution must be accomplished (e.g. an installment plan).)


If four year olds can grasp these basic concepts of conflict resolution, shouldn’t us adults be able to so, as well?

When I first read about this “Solution Kit”, my initial reaction was to get a hold of one and send it to Congress. I am still half toying with the idea of doing so! In the meanwhile, perhaps there are some other adults amongst us that could benefit from its use, as well.

. . .Just something to think about!


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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