“We can only really give in a loving way
to the degree that we are receiving similar
love and understanding.” Marshall B. Rosenberg
Compromise exists in the space between my needs and your needs – a realm where both of our needs are met and satisfied, keeping us on the road to learning and adventure. If I sacrifice my needs to the point where they no longer representing my spirit in effort to bring about a peaceable solution to a problem, then we are not compromising – I am merely folding up in an attempt to keep you happy. If, on the other hand, I cannot make room to accommodate your vision and perspective and help you meet your own needs while still attending to my own, I am coercive, oppressive, and I am modeling that I am more important than you. On the one hand, passivity is undermining my ability to advocate for myself. On the other, aggression is teaching my friends to walk a little more cautiously around me, fearful that they might be stomped on – figuratively or otherwise – in an attempt to meet their needs for play.
Compromise is both people feeling satisfied – needs met and voices heard. One of our scripted phrases is, “That doesn’t work for me.” Until we find a solution that works for both parties, true compromise evades. One of the common misunderstandings about a philosophy of guidance and discipline that is non-coercive and non-punitive (read: no time-outs, no spankings, no bribes, no privileges withheld, non-coercive…period) is that the parents/care providers must get walked all over – that I cannot draw clear limits for children without using coercive methods. Wrong. When children’s needs and feelings are respected and valued, they learn to respect and value the needs of their community. And, if my needs as a parent/care provider are not being met, then true guidance is not happening. I must model self-advocacy if I want children to learn to advocate for themselves. Marshall B. Rosenberg of the Center for Non-Violent Communication wrote this dynamite little booklet called Raising Children Compassionately (…seriously, if you haven’t heard of this great writer and thinker, and if you don’t yet own this little booklet, you should look into it!) in which he says, “…we show people the same quality of respect when they don’t do what we ask as when they do. After we have shown that quality of respect through empathy, through taking the time to understand why they didn’t do what we would like, we can then pursue how we might influence them to willingly do what we ask.”
The ability to compromise is one of the most powerful lifelong skills to foster in our young children. I teach children to compromise with each other because I want the next generation of thinkers, leaders, creative visionaries, and prophetic voices to feel the art of listening and perspective taking so deeply in their bodies that they can’t help but look for ways to help others get their needs met. I teach children to compromise because I genuinely believe that the only way for me to truly feel heard and respected is if I hear and respect others. I teach children to compromise because I want to bestow on each child the ability for them to advocate for their needs and stand up for causes that are right and just. I teach children to compromise because it requires moving beyond simplistic notions of good and evil – the heart of compromise involves looking for the need behind the behavior, and working to fill that need in a manner that works for everyone. I teach children to compromise because it’s the only way to insure that everyone always gets what they need.
Now for the examples. Cadence is feeding her baby, Simone, with a pipette full of water. As a general policy, the pipettes are not used as tool by which to take a drink. For one, we are not totally sure of what was in the pipettes the last time they were used, and two, in order to get water from the pipettes into their mouths, the crew ends up putting them into their mouth – chewing on the ends, leaving them bent, unusable, and contributing to the spread of germs. So, pipettes stay in the art room with the other art supplies. Generally. One day last week, I observed Cadence at the sink, trying to fill a pipette with water. There were no other supplies on the table, so I assumed (correctly) that she was planning to take the pipette into another area for use.
Me: “Cadence? What are your plans for that pipette?”
Cadence: “This is my baby’s food.”
Me: “Ahh…I see. I’m concerned that maybe the pipette isn’t clean, or that it will go into Simone’s mouth, and that won’t work for me.”
Cadence: “We could wash it out.”
Me: “Okay. But how are we going to make sure that the pipette doesn’t get Simone’s germs on it?”
Cadence: “I could hold it over her mouth and drip the water in.”
Me: “That works for me. Does that work for you?”
Or consider this example. Simone and Addie were hard at work, carrying shovel-full after shovel-full across the yard and dumping it into the sled. I had to admire the motor ability to balance a full shovel of sand all the way across the yard! And at the same time, our policy is that sand stays in the sandbox. After all – if we transport much sand out, we won’t have much sand in. Time to figure out if there is a compromise.
Me: “Hi girls. It looks like you are filling the sled with sand.”
Addie: “Yep. It is our dinosaur food.”
Me: “Ahh…I see. Sand stays in the sandbox. Is it possible to move the sled over to the sandbox so that you can collect food for your dinosaur and keep the sand in the sandbox?”
Simone: “Yeah! That works for me.”
Both girls immediately grabbed an end of the sled and walked it over to the sandbox. The limit of sand staying in the sandbox is not a limit I want to negotiate, and I am able to keep that limit in place while still accommodating their agenda of collecting dinosaur food. What if they had not been so amiable to my suggestion? It could be that carrying the sand such a long distance was really a part of their agenda. How could I have accommodated that request while still maintaining the limit about sand staying in the sandbox? Well, creatively, of course! I could have suggested that they use a different object (a bucket) to carry the sand so that it didn’t spread all over the grass while in transit. I could have suggested they carry sand on their shovels in the distance between the two sand pits – a smaller distance, thereby holding the limit of sand staying in the sand area, but allowing them the physical challenge of balancing sand in a shovel while walking. And we could have continued to brainstorm! The joy of practicing making room for another person’s needs and perspectives is that we become a little more flexible in our thinking.
Another example. Tekoa and Addie had worked all morning to collect worms in the red tub of our sensory table. They covered the worms with dirt and collected grass and flowers to add to the worm’s home, and were then struck with the realization – they couldn’t find the worms anymore. They brought the tub to the patio and dumped it out in order to sift through the dirt and find their lost wriggly friends.
Along came Cadence. She picked up the broom and started to sweep the area. Tekoa and Addie were not okay with her sweeping this up – they needed to look for their worms! And it was urgent!
Cadence: “But, Tekoa, I need to clear the stage for dancing!”
Tekoa: “I have to find my worms!”
Cadence: “I have to dance!”
Me: “It seems like we have two friends with different plans for the same space. Cadence, what if you dance on the stage?”
Cadence: “That does not work for me!”
Me: “Tekoa, what if you move your dirt to the stage and look for your worms there?”
Tekoa: “No! I can’t find them!” (She was so preoccupied with finding the worms and concerned that they might be lost forever that she could not accommodate a change in location.)
Me: “Cadence, is it sweeping that you want to do or dancing? Could we could find another place for you to dance or sweep?”
Me: “What if we sweep someplace else, and when Tekoa and Addie are done looking for the worms, you could help sweep the dirt they left behind?”
Cadence: “That would work for me.”
Me: “Tekoa and Addie, can you let us know when you are done?”
I do not teach the crew to compromise because it is expedient. Or because it is easy. Or because it helps me get the kids to do what I want. Because frankly, expediency, ease, and getting kids to do what I want are all my agendas, and if the agenda falls exclusively on my shoulders, then it is not at the heart of compromise. I teach the crew to compromise because it is the only way I see to gift the future with minds and souls capable of creating lasting and significant change.
Oh, and the picture at the top? Tekoa wanted to wear this 18 month size onesie to HyVee. The shorts were our compromise, making the outfit publicly appropriate while honoring Tekoa’s needs to be in control of her clothing. This took some stretching on my part (and the onesie’s!) — I would have preferred that she not wear the onesie at all.