Thinking Out Loud

Stop Signs

Seven-year-old Willie was having trouble on the playground with Dylan. Every time they played together, they fought, and it had reached the point that just approaching each other resulted in bad feelings and conflict of one sort or another. Their parents tried to encourage them to simply avoid each other. Although this seemed like a straightforward solution because each boy acknowledged not liking the other, it just didn’t work. Their teacher, Ms. Comstyle, tried talking with the boys individually and together without success. The principal even intervened, which did have an effect . . . short term. Needless to say, everyone was frustrated.

Then Ms. Comstyle focused her communication styles lens and realized that Willie has very strong visual-spatial skills, so she devised a new plan taking this into account. She asked Willie to picture a big red stop sign, which he could easily do. Next she had him picture Dylan walking toward him on the playground. Finally, she asked Willie to picture the stop sign between him and Dylan. Each step was easy for Willie: he was very good at picturing and enjoyed the details.

Willie worked with Ms. Comstyle every day for a week, picturing the scene with the stop sign between him and Dylan. The following week without being told to do so, Willie reported excitedly to his teacher (and then later to his parents) that he kept himself away from Dylan on the playground because he could picture a big, red stop sign that reminded him to stop and go in the other direction.

I’ve coached many teachers to think about a child’s communication style strengths when figuring out ways to solve a problem academically or socially. Focusing on strengths, when a lot of attention has already been paid to weaknesses, shifts attention and allows for more creative problem-solving. In this case, it gave Willie a new tool to work with as he grows and develops.

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