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Some of my stories are published in:
A Cup of Comfort Devotional for Mothers and Daughters (Adams Media, 2009)
Chicken Soup: What I Learned from the Dog (2009)
Love is a Flame (Bethany House, 2010)
Extraordinary answers to Prayer (Guideposts, 2010)
Love is a Verb (Bethany House, 2011)
Big Dreams from Small Spaces (Group Publishing, 2012)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

He Did What? And What Did You Do?

When I was teaching in the public schools, I got to know a very skillful and dedicated special education teacher.
I admired the way he managed his classrooms.
One afternoon, after a frustrating morning of trying to get kids to behave I asked him what he does when kids have spats in the classroom.
He said, "I always separate the kids and ask each one, "What happened?"
Then my next question is "What did you do?"
The kids will always try to point the blame at the other kid or kids, but I always bring them back to "What happened, and what did you do?"

I loved his advice and I started to implement it right away. Each time one of my students had a disagreement that ended in choice words being shouted or some shoving, I'd meet with the offenders, one at a time and ask them,
"Johnny, what happened? What did you do?"

Invariably, Johnny would say, "Well, Tommy (or Susie) said xxxxxxxxx."
And then I'd say, "We're not talking about what Tommy (or Susie said). Right now I'm asking you what you did?

Eventually Johnny would come to see that, even though Tommy or Susie was at fault (in his mind), he had made the problem worse by shouting back or shoving back.

I used this technique with my own children when they were pretty young. One of them would come to me with, "Kiri threw a toy at me!"
Me: "What did you do before Kiri threw the toy at you?"
Boy: "I walked into her room."
Me: "Why did you go into her room?"
Boy: "Because she's giggling and I told her to stop!"
Me: "Did Kiri invite you into her room?"
Boy: "No, but she was giggling."
Me: "So you're telling me you went into her room without her permission?"
Boy: "But...
Me: "I will deal with Kiri and her toy-throwing right away. In the meantime, it's okay for Kiri to giggle. Furthermore, you don't go into Kiri's room unless she says it's okay."

Of course, sometimes it was the girl who was the main offender. But the conversation almost always went the same way:
 Kid:"He did such and such!"
Me or Bruce:  "And what did you do?"

For any of you who remember the old Dick Van Dyke comedy show:
Rob and Lora Petrie have a big spat. Lora runs to Millie, her best friend, and Rob talks about the spat the next day at work with his associates.
Each presents a very emotional, persuasive story illustrating his or her perfect innocence in the fight. Later, a goldfish, who had witnessed the domestic spat in his bowl in the Petrie's living room gives the unvarnished account. Pretty funny.
 Of course, eventually Rob and Lora make up, realizing that they've both exaggerated each other's fault.

I sure wish adults would counsel themselves when they get into arguments or spats with their spouses or associates at church or work.
What happened?
What did you do?

Of course, there are times when we are innocent victims of someone else's capricious or malicious nature.
But in most cases, we should ask ourselves, "In this conflict with XXX, what have I done that may have caused or influenced it, or how have I reacted that escalated the tension between me and XXX?

The Lord has convicted me many times when I have complained in my heart about someone else's actions. Many times He has quietly impressed on my heart: "I'm patient with you when you do or say something that displeases me. Shouldn't you be patient with XXX?"

How did you solve conflicts with your kids or help mediate at church or at work?

"Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Pet. 3:8, 9 NIV Bible)


  1. Wonderful advice! I'm writing that line down right now.

  2. Dena, wish I'd had your words of wisdom while raising my 7 "Treasures." Great. (Your photos are exquisite.) New Years blessings!

  3. Thanks, Bobbe. Hope we get together soon. Love you.