My sweet Cupcake started preschool last week and we are delighted that she will be learning to share and wait her turn and learning French at the same time!  She dove headlong into the challenging loving every day more than the last, but as they say, “no pain, no gain,” after four days of pure bliss she became painfully aware of her limitations — both conflict resolution and the language barrier.

When a classmate wouldn’t share his toy, she hit.  When she was reprimanded by the teacher she screamed at the top of her lungs.  When it was time for another activity she ran and hid in another room.  In one morning, she tried three different reactions, none of which were allowed.

My preschooler is experiencing a hard truth that when our language skills are not adequate (or when any of us find our words are not respected) we resort to physical expressions of our emotions.  I went straight home and consulted with some encouraging mamas who are also raising their kids overseas to brainstorm healthy expression of emotions that did not require language acquisition to bridge that language barrier.

Then I dug deep into my Montessori learning principals to create The Gentleness Game: Conflict Resolution Across the Language Barrier.  I printed photos that represented the four reactions that were not allowed: pushing, screaming, running, and hiding.  Then I printed twice as many reactions that are permitted so that she would have plenty of choices to choose from according to the situation: wait her turn, take a deep breath, count to four, sign please, cross her arms, take a step back, sit on the floor, go get a grown-up, hug Doudou (her lovey).

This Gentleness Game provides her with a big bundle of ways to soothe herself, resolve her conflict, or at the very least communicate the injustice she feels without making the situation worse. Clearly learning French is one of the goals of this socialization, but in the mean time body language is something we can work on at home in English that doesn’t need to be translated!

The Gentleness Game: Conflict Resolution Across the Language Barrier

  1. We cut out the pictures and described what action they represent.
  2. Next we painted the poster with a good side and a bad side while we discussed why we should choose actions that communicate our feelings without causing hurting other people.
  3. Then I asked her to play the matching game a couple times and she excelled at the game.  Clearly she understands intellectually which actions are good and bad.
  4. Eventually we glued the pictures to the poster to hang on her wall as a frequent reminder.
  5. Most importantly, we started practicing immediately by creating simulations at home.  When she gets impatient I ask her to rephrase her request, “May I please…” then I ask her to choose one of the postures that are allowed while she waits.  This gives her something to concentrate her energy on while it buys me time to fulfill the request.

I anxiously await the day we hear her ask in French, “May I take a turn when you’re done, please?”

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