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Helping Kids Solve Problems at Recess with the Kimochis Keys to Communication

feelings kimochis self-regulation social emotional learning teaching Sep 14, 2021
kids at recess

by Katie Raher, PhD, PPS

So I’ve been having yard duty as part of my duties as a School Psychologist this year. And I'm seeing the same issues arise again and again. In a 15-minute span of recess, I get at least 10 kids coming up to me to tell me something that’s bothering them. About 99% of the time, they are upset because of something another child did, such as cutting in line, pushing them, not following the rules, and so on.

In addition to validating their concerns and feelings about the situation, I usually say something like, “what have you tried to solve the problem” or “what have you done to let them know how you feel?”

While my data collection is still limited with it being only a couple months into school, there is thus far 100% consistency in the responses:  coming to the yard duty – which is me in this case – is their first and only attempt, and likely strategy, for solving their problem.

While it’s fantastic that these kids see adults at our school as safe, trustworthy, and helpful, it’s also clear that most kids don’t YET know how to navigate conflict or uncomfortable situations on their own.

So, it’s super important that we empower kids by teaching them how to solve their own problems in ways that keep them connected.

How do we do this? We break down the steps for them, we practice, we coach, and we repeat this process as needed.

Now I get that in the moment, it may feel a lot easier to simply find out which kid cut in line, pushed, or did whatever rule breaking is being reported, and just tell that kid to stop and call it a day.

It’s more work AND much more helpful for the long haul to take the time to teach kids what to do.

Now, most educators are pretty awesome at teaching kids routines and expectations for the first several weeks of school – from how to turn in their class work to how to line up for lunch to how to follow rules on the playground and so much more.

Some steps that are too often not taught enough (yet!) are what to do and say when a peer doesn’t follow those rules or expectations, or there’s been conflict with a peer.

Heck, it’s even hard as a grown adult to navigate situations like these (I know for me, when I see someone not wearing their mask correctly at the store, or ignoring the rules about the lines at Target, and so forth, I get uncomfortable and have to play it out in my mind first as to how I want to most kindly and effectively approach the situation).

Our students certainly need help with this! And the awesome thing is that once we teach them the steps, we will save ourselves time and stress. We will save them time and stress too!

To most effectively empower kids, my favorite tools to teach and practice are the Kimochis Keys to Communication.

There are 7 powerful Keys, which give kids the framework, and all of us a universal language, to work with. Here is a brief overview of what the Keys to Communication are all about, and how I use them during yard duty…

Key 1: Get Someone’s Attention – a simple, yet game-changing tool, to actually make sure you’ve connected with someone first before saying what you need or want. Have you ever seen kids (or adults – yes, me included) running behind a kid on the playground trying to say something they need or want? It just plain doesn’t work well because the person we’re talking to has their attention elsewhere. We want to know someone has heard us, so step 1 of any interaction is to make sure we are connected and have the other person’s attention. In taking time for this step, we up the odds of having communication being effective. Where do you notice kids (and adults) not yet pausing to do this most vital step and in need of coaching around this?

Key 2: Use a Talking Voice – attention to tone of voice is a powerful part of staying connected. When we drop into a fighting voice, we can simply sound like the Charlie Brown teacher with the person on the receiving end not processing much besides our tone of voice, or we can unfortunately create a disconnect that can lead to more conflict, which isn’t exactly what any of us truly want.  When we practice using our talking voice, we raise the odds that people actually hear what we have to say. What variations do you see in the tone used by your students and yourself, and where is there room for improvement?

Key 3 – Use a Talking Face and Body – attention to facial expressions and body language as another critical piece of the connection puzzle. Even when emotions get heated, working to maintain a calm and connected face and body will help the other person engage more effectively with us. Where do you notice effects of facial expressions and body language with your students, as a clue to where teaching and coaching could help?

Key 4 – Use Helpful Words – an obvious component of communication most of us consider and something we can teach more intentionally. Considering revisions to what we say can help us improve relationships and decrease conflict. For example, instead of saying, “You cheated,” saying “The tetherball rule at our school is that you can only touch the ball and not the rope” could change the reactions and responses of the person on the sending and receiving end of things. Where could students benefit from brainstorming on more helpful words and phrases to use?

Key 5 – Be Brave and Redo Hurtful Moments – a key piece of restoring relationships when disconnect has occurred. While it can be hard to admit wrongdoing, celebrating the courage it takes to acknowledge mistakes and make things better is so important to teach our students and to integrate into classroom and school culture. How can pairing courage with redos make it easier for your students to engage in restorative practices?

Key 6 – Be Kind and Let People Try Again – another part of restorative practices. It’s important that we normalize the need to try again, because everyone makes mistakes. How are you honoring mistakes as a normal part of the learning process, in and out of the classroom?

Key 7 – Assume the Best – important for bringing us more of the positive feelings and connection we need to navigate school and life with more ease. Although it’s super easy to assume the worst, because of our negativity bias as humans, we can train our brains to think the best. Where could your students benefit from some coaching to shift their mindset around situations and each other?

My Yard Duty Usage:

  1. Once a child has told me they didn’t yet try to communicate with the person they were upset with, I usually ask if they want to try to do so on their own or if they want me to help them communicate to their peer.
  2. Whatever their response, I invite the child to tell me what they plan to say and do to make things better, and based on the ideas they offer, I coach them and practice steps accordingly.
  3. I often pretend to reenact the situation, and I have them practice saying my name to get my attention first and have them use confident body language, a calm tone of voice, and helpful words to explain what’s bothering them. While I encourage collaborative brainstorming, I sometimes give a simple script to them to use, because they came to me without yet knowing the words to use.
  4. Once they feel ready and confident, I often walk with them to either directly observe them in giving their new tools a go, or watch from a distance depending on their preferences. On our walk to their peer, I often talk about Keys 6-7 and get curious with them about how we are all learning, need second chances, and often don’t even realize when we make mistakes, and how kindly helping one another will make our school and world a better place to be. I say things like, “Maybe they didn’t even know they’d cut in line,” or “Maybe they don’t know the tetherball rules yet…”
  5. After teaching and coaching kids on the Keys to Communication, another important step is to follow up with that child later –ask them how it went and how it’s going, provide detailed and positive feedback on what you notice about how they are communicating with their peers as they solve problems, and keep the connection strong by making sure they know you are still there for them, as new intricacies of navigating the school day arise and may require additional adult coaching.

So, how can you use the Keys to Communication to help you teach and coach kids to make recess and class a more successful and connected time for all?

If you’d like to learn more about the Kimochis Keys to Communication and tangible tools taught within each Key, plus much more to help teach and coach kids how to feel more empowered as they navigate their school days, I’ve got you! Here are several options for support:

  1. Live Virtual Kimochis Elementary Workshop Series – a 6-hour series where you learn how to use the Kimochis curriculum as a prevention and intervention tool to create more connected, confident, and compassionate kids, classrooms, and school communities
  2. On-Demand Kimochis Elementary Workshop – a self-paced version of the 6-hour Kimochis workshop series
  3. 10-Day SEL Training Series – 10 minutes a day for 10 days to learn the basics of SEL and the Kimochis Keys to Communication
  4. Group Kimochis Workshops - Pick your own adventure: Elementary, Early Childhood, Schoolwide, Mindfulness, Parents, Advanced, Custom. Email [email protected] to discuss your needs and how we can expand your impact with the magic of the Kimochis Keys to Communication and more.

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