Posts Tagged ‘Therapy’

ReST Method, abbreviated

The ReST Method of Conflict Resolution is a great and thorough resolution process. But when you’re supervising a busy playground, how can we be assured that we are doing as good a job when we don’t have the luxury of spending a lot of time on the issue?

I’ve had the luxury of having a nice quiet office where kids in conflict can workd through their issues using the ReST Method. The problem is, when you’re on the playground with a busy group of kids and a conflict breaks out, how do you handle the conflict thoroughly? Lately, I’ve been doing an abbreviated version of the ReST Method which has been just as effective in getting over the conflict. The jury is out on whether it has the same lasting effects as the longer version, where the same conflict won’t break out again. This abbreviated method is like meatball surgery– it gets the kids off the bench and back on the field.

Here’s what I’m doing:

Two students come to me who have a problem with each other. Their stories about who started it or who is to blame are different. The big picture is that they need to air their grievances. I need them to know that I’m not taking either side and that sitting down and trying to figure out who did what and who is to blame is going to take a lot of time and may produce some hard feelings. Rather than that, I tell them to go to the bench or to the table or some other quiet spot where they can talk. I tell them that I want them to come to me with the same story as well as a resolution. I tell them that until they have a solution to their issue they must stay and work it out together until both are completely satisfied with the outcome. Before they go, I ask if this is something that can be solved by playing Ro-Sham-Bo (Rock, Paper, Scissors), best out of three.

In most of the times I’ve done this, not every, students have solved their own issues and it takes less than one minute. They really want to get back on the playing field so they try and rush it. The solution isn’t always perfect. Perfect is when they forget about it and play the rest of the game without incident. But the solution is mostly effective.

Many times, kids choose to play Ro-Sham-Bo to solve their issue. I use the word “choose” because there is sometimes the case where they Ro-Sham-Bo for the resolution but the loser doesn’t like it. That’s when I need to step in and remind them that they chose to solve their issue in a way that really wasn’t going to satisfy them. They were going for the quick fix and it didn’t go their way. In these rare cases, I have to spend more time with the one child and talk about “choices”.



When I was growing up, one of the consequences for losing in Duck, Duck, Goose was going to the Mushpot. Nobody likes to lose. But nobody ever died from going to the Mushpot. I always come across one extra-sensitive camper who gets overly-emotional about losing– even if the game was non-competitve or there were no real prizes. I thought about how to desensitize kids like this to give them a thicker skin and show them it’s OK to lose. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen, right? 

Play this game early on in the camp season to show campers that losing a game can actually be OK. 

In a culture where everybody gets a trophy just for participating we may have created a generation of entitled kids who won’t try too hard to get the payoff. Enough said. No more preaching. On with the game!


Object: To learn how to deal with the feelings associated with losing.

Materials: None.

Area: Half-volleyball court.

Set-up: Gather participants around in a circle. Choose one person to be in the middle (the “Mushpot”).

How To Play: On “go”, all campers on the circle look at the person in the middle and shout “mush! mush! mush!” while squashing the air in front of them, pretending to mash the camper in the middle into a fine pulp. The camper in the mushpot can pretend to feel the pain and do his/her best impression of a dying cockroach (“AAAAAaaaaaagggghhhhhEEEEEEEEeeeeeee!!!”).

After all campers have gotten mushed, sit them down in their circle and talk to them about how they felt being in the mushpot. Did they die? No. Was it uncomfortable? Maybe. Did they want to cry? Probably not. Focus on the fun they had when they were in the mushpot. Later, when camp is in full swing and you’re playing games in which people get out, you can send them out via the mushpot so they can leave with a smile on their face.

Variation: Use this game when you have to get your campers to group-up or line-up. Whoever is last to the group has to be in the mushpot.

Praise Circle

It’s nice to feel wanted, loved, respected, admired and get a bunch of positive feedback heaped on you from a group of people, even if they are just acting. Here’s a way to make everyone in your circle feel special. Try using it as a game early on in your camp so that campers feel comfortable giving praise freely to others. This will work well in a group of 8 – 14 but it can get interesting in a large group of 50 or more. 


Object: To make someone feel special.

Materials: None.

Number of Participants: 8 – 14. Try larger groups too!

Area: Half-volleyball court

Set-up: Arrange campers in a circle, with one chosen person in the middle.

How to Play: On “go”, all campers in the circle say something nice about the person standing in the middle. The statements don’t have to be true but they do have to be positive. Examples are “You’re awesome!”, “Everyone likes you”, “I like your shirt”, “Your shoes are cool”, “I want to be just like you”, “Great job”, “Woo-hoo!”, “Way to go!”, etc.   Heap on the praise for about 10 – 20 seconds then have the person in the middle choose another camper to be in the middle. Of course, they need to choose someone who hasn’t been in the middle yet.

Variation: Use this frequently in camp for a special reward such as a replacement for prizes when someone wins a game.



Here’s a game for campers who like to act silly, say silly things and still have to get to know each other better. Try using this at the beginning of camp so your campers can see how crazy every other camper in their group can be. This game will help campers come out of their shy-shells and start to participate.


Object: To get shy campers communicating.

Materials: None.

Area: smaller than half-volleyball court

Number of Participants: 4 – 20

Set-up: Get participants in a circle, facing inward

How To Play: One person starts by saying in a rhythmic manner: “I ate a ______” (fill in the blank). The person to their left picks up the rhythm by saying “Yummy-Yum, I ate a ________” (fill in the blank, not repeating what anybody else has eaten). Play passes until the rhythm gets dropped or someone repeats what another has eaten. The participant that messes up will suffer a consequence (e.g. sit out of game, mush pot, start new rhythm). See explanations below for consequences. Basically, when you get a good rhythm going and everyone in the circle is prepared, it goes something like this: “I ate a rock”, “Yummy-Yum, I ate a pig”, “Yummy-Yum, I ate a toad”, “Yummy-Yum, I ate a chair”, “Yummy Yum, I ate a …..” etc. Play can continue until everyone gets bored or, if it is an elimination game, when one person is left.

Consequences: I don’t like games where people get “out” but there are times when it is called for. If the consequence is “sitting out” you might want to make it fun. For example, when a person gets out, maybe they can be dismissed to wash their hands for lunch/snack. If the consequence is “mush pot” the person stands in the middle of the circle while everyone else says “Mush! Mush! Mush!” while they make a squashing motion with their hands. After the person is “air-mushed” they are allowed back to the game. The consequence I like best is to let the person who messes up, start the new rhythm. Maybe after they’ve gone to the mush pot, they can come back to the circle and start the game up again.

Conflict: Our Most Precious Resource




It’s always been interesting to me that conflict and play seem to go hand in hand. Wherever there is play, conflict usually emerges in some way, shape or form. Call me silly but I’ve learned to love it. The name calling, pushing, brawling, etc. all leave a bad taste in our mouths but there’s actually some really good stuff that goes along with it too.


Conflict can be a positive experience.  But we’ve got to take a trip back to the pre-school playground to grasp what’s really going on.




My daughter went to a play-based cooperative preschool. Most people understand that a “cooperative” type of preschool means that parents work at the school as part of the staff. Not many truly understand what is meant by “play-based”. At first glance, a play-based preschool is mayhem with a bunch of activity centers set up so that children might choose what they want to explore without a set curriculum being forced onto them.


Sounds pretty much like a hippie commune, doesn’t it?


One objection that inevitably arises at a play-based school is “the students aren’t learning anything so they won’t be prepared for Kindergarten”. While many preschools pride themselves on producing children that can recite and write their ABCs, count to ten in multiple languages, identify shapes and colors and perform some impressive advanced tasks for a 3 – 5 year-old, the play-based kids seem to be left behind. You can tell who they are when they get to Kindergarten because they never learned to march in line like the academically-advanced students.


Conflict is at the heart of every play-based school. Conflict is what drives the learning process. It is the curriculum. The activity centers are a conduit to bring students who are age-appropriately playing side-by-side into a soft collision with those around them. When these little worlds collide at a play-based center, students learn appropriate ways to express their emotions, avoid causing physical harm and negotiate a solution. How many adults can do that for themselves?


The basic premise behind a play-based pre-school is to give children the tools they need to resolve their own conflicts so that they can negotiate the Kindergarten and elementary school arena effectively. Once they have conflict resolution skills in their repertoire they can focus on abstract language and math concepts at a time when it is age-appropriate to do so. In contrast, children who have an academic head start will be floundering on the playground and the social arena because those concepts aren’t being taught and they never will be.


All too often, the only conflict resolution skills a student learns are when a playground supervisor has to break up a fight and then benches them or sends them to the principal’s office where they end up writing standards or are forced to apologize to someone they have no intention of helping to feel better.


Plenty has been written about the virtues of play-based learning. The scope of this piece is not about play-based learning but rather focusing on the virtues of conflict, which I consider to be a by-product of play.




A loose definition for play is “the opposite of work”. Work involves purpose and preparation, as does play but play goes a bit deeper. To achieve its purpose, improvisation is called upon. Play must involve improvisation.


Let’s take a football game as an example. The purpose of football is to get the ball into the end-zone. That is achieved by moving the ball down the field. The ball is moved down the field through a series of practiced and pre-determined actions. Much like a hammer hitting a nail, if executed properly, the effect is easy to predict. But, no matter how much a play is practiced, there are always extenuating circumstances that make the outcome of each action different. This is the point where improvisation enters the equation.


A receiver whose job it is to run a simple down and out pattern and look for the ball must also effectively get around his defender. This involves a series of moves that occur in the moment. These are things that can’t be pre-determined. The receiver needs to read his defender at that moment and decide what is going to trick him. This is the point at which the work of football turns into play.




Play can be found on a school campus at recess, a local park with playground equipment or an organized sports team. It can take place on a plot of grass in front of your own home or in a swank casino. It can be inside or outside; it doesn’t matter. Play could be in the form of an organized game or event such as a soccer match or a pick-up basketball game. It could also be improvised such as a tag type of game or play-acting superheroes. And since play is “the opposite of work” then you can also find play when people engage in a light-hearted conversation or discussion. There is no required equipment for play; anything or nothing at all can be used to incite a playful interaction.





As previously stated, I think of conflict as a by-product of play. Here’s why: Play involves a goal in mind such as “tag the guy” or “make a touchdown” or “throw the ball through the hoop” or “make someone understand my side of a story”. There always seems to be some challenge that must be overcome whether it’s chasing a fast runner, getting around a defender, aiming correctly at the hoop while being guarded by a tall guy or striving to relate to another. This is the conflict or the challenge. Overcoming that challenge involves trying different things that may or may not work. We call this improvising. In music when we improvise, we can hit the wrong note but sometimes, if we are practiced, we hit more right notes. In football, we get tackled but sometimes we gain a few yards and make a touchdown. In basketball, we get blocked or we make the shot. In discussion, our audience understands us or they don’t.




Every time we engage in play, conflict arises. When conflict arises, we must necessarily improvise, that is, use the practiced responses we have learned from experience to answer the challenge in front of us. If we know some basic maneuvers and practice them and learn more advanced maneuvers and practice them, we will have improved our chances of not falling into frustration. We thrive. The point is, we have a choice to either address a conflict with a practiced and polished response or we can get frustrated, give up and let it crush us.


Conflict presents an opportunity for growth. If we address conflict the right way, with an attitude of willingness and openness to learning, we thrive. Conflict can actually benefit us. It challenges us to be better. It proves to us that there is hope; there is usually a way to work around the problem. Finally, we feel engaged in life and empowered to create our own destiny. On the flip side, when we don’t view conflict as an opportunity and we run away from them, let them go unresolved or let others resolve them, we learn hopelessness, powerlessness, fear and become closed off to the possibilities around us. We put our destiny in the hands of others and blame them when things don’t go our way.




Handling conflict, resolving it to our liking, makes us feel good about ourselves.  For this reason alone, an efficient and effective model of conflict resolution that both empowers and validates conflicting parties to resolve their conflict in a manner that it doesn’t erupt again is necessary and prudent. Teaching conflict resolution in schools and on playgrounds will do much more than lower the reactivity of the student body during recess. It will help people at a young age internalize a coping mechanism that will serve them in their daily lives as they face tougher and tougher challenges.


Why aren’t our young people being offered something more substantial?


Are we really going to let our children grow up to learn advanced mathematical concepts, how to structure the perfect essay, become business professionals and enter into Ph.D. programs but never learn how to resolve their own conflicts in a satisfying way? These emotionally unaware adults will be ill-equipped to handle problems handed down from previous generations such as global climate change, international diplomacy issues, economic strife and dwindling natural resources. Our generation is doing all it can to kick the can down the road. The emotional awareness gained through the ability to resolve one’s own conflicts is worth investing a little extra time teaching conflict resolution (CR) techniques in the play spaces when and where the need arises.

R.e.S.T. Method: The LeaST you need to know

When you look at the play-by-play of communicating effectively it doesn’t seem like the mediator is detaching her/himself from the action. In fact, the mediator looks deeply involved throughout. Look again at the 12 steps the mediator must perform:

1. Lay down the rules: One person speaks at a time. No interruptions. Mediator has control.
2. First person tells his side of the story to the other person. (e.g. “You did this…”). Make them look at each other.
3. Second person repeats the story of the first person. Don’t let the first storyteller interrupt to correct.
4. First person explains what was left out of the re-telling of the story.
5. First person describes how he felt when the actual incident was happening. What was going on inside his head, his body? Were his fists clenched then?
6. Second person repeats how first person felt during incident.
7. First person describes how he felt as he was telling his story to the second person. What was going on inside his mind and body then?
8. Second person repeats how the first person felt during the telling of the incident.
9. Ask the first person how he feels right now.
10. Second person repeats how the first person feels right now.
11. Ask the second person what he noticed about the storyteller’s body language. “What kind of meta-messages was he sending?”
12. Ask the second person to tell his story now and repeat steps 2 through 11 for him.


When you are the mediator out on the playground, how will you remember all this unless you carry some kind of cheat sheet with you? Well, here is the very LeaST you should know. Notice the spelling of “LeaST”? That’s right, it’s a pneumonic device.

Keep in the back of your mind the goals: efficiency and autonomy. By “efficient” I mean we want this process to be one in which the mediator gets in there, teaches the process, steps back and never has to revisit this same problem again with the same two people.  By “autonomous” I mean that once the wheels of mediation are in motion, the two in conflict can finish the job themselves.

1. Teach them how to Listen:

Reflect back on the 12 steps in Effective Communication. The whole thing is about teaching the two parties in conflict how to listen to each other. And we now know that listening doesn’t just involve what is being said, but how it is being said through body language.

2. Teach them what to Say:

When two people are in conflict there is always someone who can talk better, use bigger words and can confuse the whole process by being a great debater. They are used to winning their battles with their words. Because conflict resolution is between two people, you will want to level the playing field so that neither party has an advantage. They need to learn how to communicate on the same level. One of the parties may need to be brought down a level while the other may need to be brought up.  While they are learning to effectively communicate with each other it helps if they have a template to lean on. Teach them to talk to each other like this:

“When you did this to me (describe what was done such as punched, called names, screamed, etc.)  I felt ____________ (describe or name the emotion) and it made me [want to] _________________ (describe the action that was taken or wanted to be taken).

The template above is helpful for those who may still be pre-verbal when it comes to describing what is going on inside their head. Not every person has an emotional vocabulary so this process won’t be easy for them. Giving them a template levels the playing field for the conflicting parties by helping the pre-verbal person have a voice while pulling back the reins on the person who is used to debating and winning. In addition, this template forces each to name the emotions going on inside of them, which is helpful to develop empathy in the relationship.

3. Give them a Task:

Once you have taught them how to listen and what to say, it is important that they know the reason for all of it. They have a task to perform. Their task is to come up with their own solution to the problem they have created. The solution must be such that it gives 100% satisfaction to both parties in conflict.

Given the rules of compromise, neither party may like the outcome entirely. They will both have to give a little in order to reach their unique resolution. By satisfaction I mean “settle” as the root suggests. Both parties settle on terms they have worked to agree on. Like a farm animal settling in for the night, a spot in the hay is worked into by pushing out lumps here and there so a nice nest is created. In the same manner, the two parties in conflict must make the best situation by agreeing to the terms that fit them (as one unit) best.


In summary, the very least you need to remember to effectively institute the ReST Method of Conflict Resolution, keeping in mind the goals of efficiency and autonomy, is this:  Listen, Speak, Task.


Stage Three of the ReST Method: Resolution

Once the participants have been prepared for the process and have been properly shown how to communicate, the Resolution can happen.

Oddly enough, this is the simplest part of the process for the mediator. There are three steps to observe for a Resolution to occur:

  1. Mediator steps back
  2. Conflicting parties collaborate
  3. Publish the resolution


Step one: Mediator Steps Back

You’ve made your expectations clear, modeled appropriate behavior and allowed some time to pass. By now, your conflicting parties are itching to get out of there. It is here that you let them know you are going to step back and let them take over. This may mean you are going over to a different part of the room or are leaving the room altogether depending on the temperature of the two parties (discussed earlier). What it really means is that you are no longer going to be involved in their issue. To closely monitor the progress, you may need to be in the room, speaking only as a referee who helps them hear each other when necessary.

Step Two: Conflicting Parties Collaborate

As hard as it might be, do not let yourself get caught up in deciding anything about the resolution. It’s not about you. It’s not for you. It’s all about them and how they feel. It has nothing to do with what they say. It’s all about how they feel. There will be times when the conflicting parties get stumped and frustrated with each other in this part of the process. That’s normal. The most you should do here is help to keep the temperature low by having them repeat what the other has said or notice out loud what they see in the other’s metamessages.

As frustration arises between the two, remember this: A child who is learning a new skill (tying shoes, jumping rope, etc.) will get frustrated. In fact, 20 minutes of frustration while learning a new skill is a healthy thing. Frustration causes a person to improvise, digging into their creative intelligence, to find a solution. This opens up new pathways of thinking that are critical for growth.

A person thrust into resolving their own conflict is no different than a child struggling to tie their own shoes. They will whine, they will want to throw things, they will shake their fists in anger, shout out loud, etc. But before all that happens, you have given them all the tools they need to be successful in doing this on their own. Resolving their problem for them is exactly like tying their shoes for them when they get frustrated. You will always need to be there to do it for them. They will learn nothing from it and therefore will never move on from this point. They will always expect someone else to clean up their mess. And their messes will get bigger until they are taught how to clean up after themselves.

So, let them decide what the resolution will be and, as long as they are both satisified with it, accept it. Congratulate them both on resolving their own problem.

Step Three: Publish the Resolution

You might find the resolution your two parties come up with is just what you would have recommended. And many other times you will be amazed at what their resolution entails. No matter what, everyone who witnessed the conflict has a vested interest in knowing what the outcome is.

Let’s pretend that two boys are fighting over who is first in line. The resolution they decide on can range from the silly to the stern to something out of left field:

Silly: “I am going to let him go first because he is my new best friend”.
Stern: “We are both going to be at the end of the line for the rest of summer camp in everything we do.”
Left Field: “He is going to give me his potato chips and I am going to teach him how to tie his shoes”. 

What matters most in the outcome is that the two parties are both satisfied with what they have decided on together.

Now that the resolution has been decided, it must be made known. Depending on the severity of the conflict (e.g. violent schoolyard fight that everyone is talking about vs. a shouting match that almost nobody has seen) the resolution should be made known just as widely as the conflict. There are, in many cases, a whole yard full of nosy onlookers who want to know what is going to happen to “those guys who got in trouble”. The onlookers have a lot to gain by knowing what the outcome is. They can see they have nothing to fear by working out their own problems. They can also gain satisfaction by knowing that something has been done and that the two conflicting parties are no longer mad at each other. This will also enhance the respect, safety and trust around the entire playground, knowing that as problems arise they will be taken care of.

Indeed, as the conflicting parties report back to their friends, they will quiet the rumors and harmful talk that usually reignites conflicts that are resolved by the mediator.

Another advantage of publishing the resolution or making it known is that parents or even the authorities who deal with the fallout from big conflicts will begin to trust the children to handle their own problems instead of having to step in.