Solve it Yourself? (6:57)
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Welcome to the People Safety Podcast from Kidpower, teaching advocacy, boundary setting, and other personal safety skills for building happier lives and stronger relationships! I’m Erika Leonard with another Kidpower People Safety Tip.
You know, part of being safe is knowing when and how to solve problems ourselves and when and how to get help. For example, pretend a kid in a class is usually very careful, but one day she makes a mistake. She’s rushing out to recess really fast, she isn’t careful with her body, and she accidentally bumps a table, and a container of pens and pencils goes flying all over the floor.
Let’s say she just thinks, “Oh, someone else will clean them up,” and she ignores the mess, and she runs out to recess. That’s not OK. She has a responsibility to clean up the mess that she made, and she has both the ability and the skill to do it well, and she can definitely clean up pens and pencils safely on her own.
It’s not OK to expect anyone, an adult or a child, to take over a job that’s our own responsibility when we have the skill to do it independently and safely. Even though it might be boring, even though it would be more fun to go out and play, the girl’s job is to use her own power to clean up the mess by picking up the pencils on her own.
When kids ignore a mess they made, or they try to pass off the responsibility for fixing the problem onto someone else, maybe by acting helpless or whining something like, “Teacher, there are pencils on the floor,” the adults are responsible for stopping them. They might say, “You need to deal with the mess yourself.” The teacher of the girl who spilled the pencils might say, “You need pick them up on your own.” This is an important part of helping people learn how to take responsibility.
But, now let’s change the story just a little bit. The girl is rushing out to recess, she’s still not being careful with her body, she bumps the table, stuff goes flying to the floor. This time, though, it’s a tray of science experiment equipment, and now there’s broken glass all over the floor.
If she thinks, “Oh well, someone else will clean it up,” and leaves, that’s still not OK, and in this case it’s also not safe because of the broken glass. To take responsibility in this case, she needs to tell an adult in order to get help, because dealing with the problem on her own is less safe.
She also needs to tell the whole story in order to get help. If she tells the teacher, “I spilled stuff,” there’s a good chance the teacher will say, “Go deal with it. Clean it up.” But if the teacher doesn’t know about the broken glass, then the teacher doesn’t know the whole story. The girl needs to persist by saying something like, “I want to clean it up, but there’s broken glass. I don’t know how to do it safely. I need help.”
Now the teacher has the whole story and will probably take charge of how the clean-up gets done. Probably the teacher will still expect the girl to stay and to take some action to help fix the problem. She might not be able to pick up pieces of glass safely, but she can use the broom to sweep them into a dustpan the teacher is holding. The teacher is doing a lot of the work, but she is also keeping the girl’s attention on the whole process so she can learn more about how people solve this kind of problem safely and effectively.
Adults want kids to learn to deal with problems. That’s why they sometimes say things like, “I want you to solve it yourself,” or “Figure it out on your own.” And if you spilled a bunch of pencils, you do need to solve it yourself. But if the problem you’re dealing with is one you have no idea how to solve, or if you don’t know how to do the work safely, or if you can tell that what you are trying is not effective because the problem is getting bigger instead of better, then you need help. Persisting until you get adult help is important.
Sometimes the problems that we have are with stuff, like pencils and broken glass, but sometimes the problems are with people – like maybe kids are being mean with words or maybe people are being too rough. If you have the skill to manage the problem safely and effectively, it’s your responsibility to solve it yourself. But if you DON’T have the skills to manage the problem safely and effectively so that the problem stops, then it’s more of a broken-glass kind of mess. You need to get help and to keep getting help until an adult really understands the whole story and helps you get the problem to stop.
A boy with his mom once told a Kidpower instructor, “You know, at our school, teachers want kids to solve problems between themselves on their own so they’ll learn how, and when I say ‘I need help,’ they say, ‘Go work on it yourselves.’ But, it just gets worse!” The boy really wanted to fix the problems himself. But he knew that they weren’t getting it right on their own without adult help. None of the kids had strong skills yet for solving the problem effectively on their own, and they were making problems bigger, not better. Solving it themselves was less safe, and they were not learning the problem-solving skills from each other. They needed guidance.
Just like the girl who broke the glass needs lots of coaching over time to gradually learn how to deal with that kind of mess independently, all kids need coaching from experienced problem solvers in how to solve problems between people effectively. We coached the boy and his mom how to tell his teachers the whole story to get the problem solving coaching that he needed. They practiced saying, “I want to solve it myself, but I don’t know how. Please help me learn.”
That small skill made things a lot better for him, for his friends, and also for the teachers, because then they understood the whole problem better, that he wasn’t trying to pass off the job onto them. They knew that he wanted their help in order to learn how to solve it himself, and that kind of help was exactly what they wanted to give.
Visit kidpower.org for more People Safety tips, and remember, in everything you do, stay safe, act wisely, and of course, believe in yourself!