One night Liam described to me a game he’d invented, which was basically three-person tag with walkie talkies wherein one person is chasing the other two who are colluding on evasion strategy by radio communication. It sounded like the kind of engagement that holds the potential for fun but also promises the likelihood of dissension, particularly when the age spread of the players ranges from five to ten years old, so my spider sense was immediately piqued.
The next day, after they’d juiced up the walkies with fresh AAAs in preparation for the game, I proffered a caveat to the older two (who are the same height and run at roughly the same speed) that they might need to alter their approach when their little brother is the chaser since it’s no fun to feel like you can’t keep up. I explained the concept of the golf handicap and the rationale behind it and hoped for the best as they darted out the door. Not two minutes later, Arlo (who’s half the age of his brother for this one and only year of their lives) barreled back through the door and stomped to the stairs, declaring, “I hate this game! This is the worst game in the world!” I’d seen this coming and so had my response cued and ready: “Arlo, I don’t like it when you say things like that. The word ‘hate’ certainly isn’t the word you’re really looking for. Can you think of another way to describe how you’re feeling?”
He sat there, arms crossed, brows furrowed, lips pursed, for another minute and then picked up his walkie talkie and pushed to talk. “Liam and Summerly, I don’t like the way this game is going at all. You guys are running too fast for me! Over.”
Liam, still outside, came on the line with “Ok, Arlo. What if we try it where we only run part of the time, like when you get too close? Over.”
Arlo: “No, you’re too fast and that’s still too hard. I can’t catch you when you’re running! Over.”
Summerly’s voice patched in, “I know, I know! When it’s Arlo’s turn to chase, we can do speed walking. Over.”
Liam, “Yeah, and when we’re chasing him, we can speed walk then, too. Over.”
Arlo, “Ok, guys, thanks. I’m coming! Over.”
And just like that he barreled back into the great outdoors to join his brother and sister. The thing about walkie-talkies is that, as long as everyone is on the same radio channel, multiple people can tune in but only one radio on the signal can transmit at a time. This way, no one can interrupt each other. The next time I’m looking for alternative conflict resolution strategies, I might just give each child a handheld transceiver and send them all into separate rooms. Heck, I might even try this technique during mealtime someday soon. Just think: only one voice would be heard at any given moment! Everyone would contribute speech much more selectively and intentionally! No one would have to ask anyone else to stop humming the same bar of “Hedwig’s Theme” while others try to talk! They might even remember to swallow before speaking! And everyone will know when another person is finished making a point because of the verbal full stop to signify that one’s contribution to the conversation has concluded. Over.