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Should guardians intervene to resolve a scuffle between kids?

By Mansi Jain,

A recent study shows that a Japanese school’s approach of non-involvement in children’s fights boosts their problem-solving skills.

Called mimamoru, the pedagogical strategy is one where adults, including early childhood educators, intentionally let kids handle disagreements on their own.

It is not unusual for children to have conflicts with their peers and siblings. However, small disagreements and misunderstandings can easily lead to a scuffle at their age. It is always difficult for a parent or a teacher to resolve such disputes without damaging the relationship of both the parties involved. It’s the onus of a guardian to ensure that kids learn and evolve from these conflicts. But the question is, should they intervene and help kids resolve their disputes? This is a tricky one for sure. A recent study published in the Early Childhood Education Journal finds that non-intervention is a more effective strategy for conflict resolution. The survey was done to examine Japan's approach to this dilemma.  

Findings of the study 
The study, conducted in focus groups of a total of 34 Japanese and 12 U.S. early childhood educators, showed that while this hands-off approach is not a part of Japan’s early childhood education and care (ECEC) curriculum, it is implicitly followed by a majority of teachers.  

This strategy is known by the name of mimamoru, which is a combination of mi (meaning ‘to watch’) and mamoru (meaning ‘to protect’). The study used modified video-cued multi-vocal ethnography methods and outlined three major outcomes of the mimamoru approach: 

  • Temporary, minimal intervention in brawls reduce the immediate risk of physical harm 
  • Non-intervention in the fight encourages kids to come up with their own solutions 
  • Leaving kids on their own in case of a fight once ensured that they no longer require adult intervention. 

ANI quoted study author Fuminori Nakatsubo, an ECEC specialist and associate professor at Hiroshima University's Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences, saying, "This study aims to understand the reason why Japanese early childhood educators tend not to intervene, and how and in what contexts they do. Although the mimamoru approach looks passive, it rather challenges educators to remain patient, watching and waiting for children to think and act on their own."  

How does this work? 
This pedagogy is based on the belief in children’s inherent goodness. Allowing them to feel the emotion of guilt and regret helps them understand that physical violence isn’t the answer. This approach encourages children to take responsibility and repair their relationships through ownership of solutions.  

What can parents do? 
This hands-off approach in children’s fights can be applied to similar situations that they encounter at home as well. If you are sure that there is no immediate risk of physical harm, allow them time to ruminate over their actions and understand the repercussions of the tussle, how their anger led to pain and the regret of causing that pain. This whole process will stimulate them to find a way out of the guilt by making amends. 

However, the selection of situations to apply this strategy needs to be cautious. It should depend on a child’s behaviour and his capacity to learn from experience. As a parent, you must remember that immediate intervention may rob kids of a wonderful learning experience. The mimamoru approach, on the other hand, gives them leeway to explore independence under the watchful care of adults and helps them develop problem-solving skills.  

(With inputs from ANI) 

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