Sometimes Words Are Our Best Ally – by Jacquelyn Tyre-Perry

six preschool age children run towards the camera in a hallway wearing white capes and orange superhero masks

six preschool age children run towards the camera in a hallway wearing white capes and orange superhero masksManassas Park Parks and Recreations School Age Recreation Specialist Jacquelyn-Tyre PerryOver the years, the number of “squabbles” I have witnessed among my students are countless. However, I’ve found a handful of techniques to not only help resolve any issues, but also give students the tools to come to a resolution on their own in the future.

Here is a classic event in the classroom: Jimmy takes Bobby’s Legos. What normally happens is, Bobby attempts to snatch the Legos back, Jimmy wants no part in giving them back and then a meltdown ensues. Bobby comes running to the teacher yelling, “Ms. Joc, Jimmy took my Legos!” Now, for adults, we may think to ourselves, “Is this really the end of the world?” Unfortunately for a 5 year old, it absolutely is.

Here are some steps that I put in place for incidences just like these.

Help the students use their words. Rather than Bobby attempting to snatch the Legos back from Jimmy, he should instead say, “Hey Jimmy I was playing with those. Can you give them back please?” I find that 80% of the time the misunderstanding was Bobby sat the Legos down and Jimmy thought they were fair game. Nonetheless, helping the student verbalize what is happening usually leads to a resolution and better communication skills.

Focus on themselves. When an issue comes to me or I have to step in, I need to hear both sides of the story. The first thing I hear from Lilah is, “Susan is being mean and she ripped my paper, she, she, she.” I will usually ask three questions and ask for answers that will get to the point. The dialog usually follows like this:

“What were you doing?”

“I was coloring at the table.”

“What happened next?”

“Susan ripped my paper.”

“How did that make you feel?”

“It made me feel sad and upset.”

My goal is not to harp on the action and make Susan feel worse. I want Susan to hear Lilah’s feelings so she knows that her actions had an effect on Lilah.

Teamwork. This one is self-explanatory but often times overlooked. A group of girls is at a table coloring and two of them want to use the same shade of blue at the same time. Imagine that. Of course, this will prompt, “Ms. Joc! I need to use the blue and Andrea’s using it.” In this case, I will say, “I think you ladies are smart enough and creative enough to work together to find a solution so you both can use the blue.” This helps them come to a solution on their own and have problem solving skills for the future.

Ask for help. While I stress the importance of communicating with each other and working together to come up with solutions on their own, some instances will be out of their hands. I still encourage students to make sure they communicate with an adult if they can’t handle an issue on their own, especially when someone has been or is becoming verbally or physically aggressive.

These tips have worked for me over the last decade no matter the child or the circumstance. My hope for all my students is that they learn effective communication and can solve problems on their own. I want my students to feel empowered and responsible for themselves and their actions. These are lessons that I can only hope will have a life-long impact.

Jacquelyn Tyre-Perry is the School Age Recreation Specialist for the City of Manassas Park, Department of Parks and Recreation. She can be reached at 703-335-8872 or via email at

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