Michele-Campbell-Thinking-Out-LoudMy children are products of the 1990’s Nickelodeon era — the kind of after-school shows that don’t infiltrate the young brains too much after a long day at school.

One of their favorite shows was “Figure It Out.” It consisted of a panel of four regulars who had to guess what talent or accomplishment a guest possessed. It was along the lines of “What’s My Line?” or “I’ve Got a Secret” in the ‘60s.

My kids loved to see which panelist would correctly guess the guest’s “secret.”

I had read somewhere that the panel was told beforehand and they had a specific protocol to follow and rotated who was going to be the one to “guess” correctly. One afternoon we were watching and in the midst of a conversation, I revealed that the show was rigged. My kids felt gypped and I was the Grim Reaper of bad news.

They were especially disappointed in the fact the panel didn’t honestly guess, and more importantly, why couldn’t they?

Why did the panel need to be told what to say when they could easily have guessed it themselves?

I was impressed with their thoughts on the subject; they were right. I don’t know if they remember the specific events of that day, but they do like to tease me about the memorable moment when I “ruined their favorite childhood show.”

Reflecting upon that memory gave me thought about our kids today. Over the years in school, I have had countless “hallway meetings” involving friendship issues on the playground, lunchroom and hallways where conflicts seem to arise because adult supervision is not as tight.

Usually, they involve a benign “she said…” or “he changed the rules in the middle of the game,” or “they are being mean to me because they want to play jump rope and I don’t.”

The kids come to an adult in tears and with sweaty, peanut butter fingers pointing at each other. Each had a story that he or she deemed was the correct version. As a classroom teacher, most of the times I didn’t see the incident, so how can I accurately referee this debacle?

I can’t … and I shouldn’t.

Neither should the lunch volunteers, the librarian, the maintenance people or the nearest adult.

It’s my humble opinion that kids have great difficulty in settling basic, everyday conflicts that arise in life.

I will interject here that I am not referring to bullying or physical/emotional abuse within peers. Those are serious situations that must be handled by an adult.

I am talking about the little fires that flare up socially and our kids have no clue how to extinguish them. The kids come rushing to an adult in a People’s Court manner and expect the adult to solve their problem.

This may be a quick fix, but it only shows the child that they don’t need to do anything but tattle and Judge Milian will settle it for them. Life doesn’t work like that, especially as they get older and situations are more intricate.

They need that skill of how to Figure It Out on their own.

So, how do we help our kids settle these disputes? A proactive stance seems to work best in the classroom. Over the years, we have discussed the typical situations and how to settle them. We also debated what is really a dispute and what is simply someone wanting it their way or a misperception.

These flare-ups include the aforementioned scenarios and I usually have to customize the conversation to fit the class for that particular year. Some resolutions created by the kids are really spot-on: to walk away, start a new game somewhere else, understand that not everyone wants to play the game you are playing, leave it on the soccer field, and, a classic in girl-world, unless you have proof, it’s only gossip and probably wrong.

This same conversation can be held in the family car on the way to church or even with another adult in extracurricular activities. We need to discuss the situations before they happen so the children can use their own logical reasoning to independently come to a resolution.

I also explain that when I tell them to figure it out, it’s not an evasion on my part. This is their issue and there is no better way to custom-solve a problem than to include those involved.

As parents who hear of the “hallway meetings” via the grapevine or a bedtime routine discussion, it is important to not overreact and insist on getting involved to “take care of it.” We love our bear cubs and want to fiercely protect them, but if the issue is small and the reaction is big, it can escalate to a level of phone calls and gossip on the adult level.

I feel the best way to “take care of it” is to listen to the child’s concerns and talk about ways to figure it out. It’s not easy and our kids want that quick fix, but “figure it out” presents them with a lifelong coping skill that was worth the time.

As an educator responsible for a set number of bear cubs, it is my duty to listen to “hallway meetings” that arise and discern the situations. On rare instances, it involves inappropriate behaviors and needs to be taken up further with administration and parents.

Most of the time it’s the finger pointing and two stories being told at once. That’s when the phrase “figure it out” comes into the conversation. This tells the students that their situation has been heard, but it’s up to them to solve it, because they have the capability to do so.

It is amazing to see the transformation from “They are always cheating” to “I’m not going to play with anyone who changes the rules so they can win.”

Friendship conflicts usually get solved quickly because the importance of the friendship clearly outweighs a jump rope game at recess. What a great life skill to learn as a child and to grow with them as situations and those involved become more powerful.

(Campbell, a freelance writer, teaches third grade.)