Mar 18, 2017

Anji Play: Let's talk about conflict, part 1 (kids' eye view)

 When we give kids the freedom of self-directed play, there's a good chance some conflict will crop up at some point. One of the major questions that frequently comes up around Anji Play programs is, “What if the kids are fighting?”  Let’s break that down a little.

AnjiPlayDate 3-22-17

1.     Are the kids really fighting or are they just having hard time solving a problem?
At this age, most likely kids aren’t going to get into an out-an-out brawl with punching, kicking or tackling each other.  If that happens, the kids are in danger of physical harm and YES, an adult should stop that behavior to keep the kids both safe.  If, on the other hand, their fight consists of crying, whining, shouting, tugging on a toy neither wants to give up, or other behavior that’s not physically harmful, adults are encouraged to allow the kids to work it out between themselves.  Here’s a real-life example from Anji County in China: two girls were arguing over a plank on the playground.  Neither was willing to give it up and they held onto that plank stubbornly for 20 minutes until finally, another girl ran up and said, “Hey, playtime is over in five minutes!” and both girls dropped the plank and ran off to play something else for the last five minutes.  It might have been uncomfortable for adults to watch the girls struggle that long, it was probably uncomfortable for the girls themselves too (no one really likes to get stuck in a power struggle!), but no one was physically hurt and the only people negatively affected by the incident were the two girls who lost out on the chance to have more time to play that day because they were fighting (not because an adult gave them “time-out” or anything—just because they chose to dig in their heels instead of figuring out a way to share the plank on their own.How many more times do you think they got into a fight like that?  How likely is it that they realized that day what a waste of time it is to get stuck in a power struggle?

note: I spoke with this little girl's mom after I posted this video initially and she said two things I wanted to post here:  
a. when this struggle was happening, it felt like an eternity to the mom watching, but when she looked at the video timestamp it was only about 5 minutes, which is not that long in the scheme of things.
b. that after the video stopped, the girl in red played in the top by herself for a little while and then hopped up and went to seek out the girl in pink and they played together for the rest of the class and the next week, she came in asking if the girl in pink was there today to play with!  Which leads nicely to....

2.    Most kids really just want to get back to playing asap
When kids have disagreements with each other during play, they don’t really want to stop to have to talk to a grown-up about proper conflict resolution techniques or considering the other child’s emotions—they want to get back to play!  This means that if you leave the kids to work out their own disagreements, they might be actually able to do it faster if adults don’t step in.  They might not work it out the same way you would, but they’ll work it out in the name of getting back to the game.

I'll do a follow-up post to this soon, approaching this question from the adult point of view, but I'd love to hear your responses to this issue.  What questions or concerns do you have?  If you've participated in an Anji Play program at my library, have you seen examples of this there and what were your thoughts about it? This conversation is an important part of Anji Play -- adults processing what it is that we observe during play time, so... let's talk!

Please note: "Anji Play,” refers to a specific philosophy and comprehensive approach to early education developed by Ms. Cheng Xueqin in Anji County, China. I use the term "Anji Play" to describe my programming and throughout this blog with the explicit permission of Ms. Cheng because our programming has been developed as part of a close collaborative relationship with her and her team of Anji Play educators. If you are interested in learning more about how you can bring Anji Play to your community, please visit

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