In Raising a Thinking Child: Help Your Young Child to Resolve Everyday Conflicts and Get Along with Others, Myrna Shure, with Theresa Foy Digeronimo, offers a practical guide to a conflict resolution program developed for parents to use with their young children. Shure's development of the program stems from her work with George Spivack on older children's abilities to solve problems. Interpersonal Cognitive Problem Solving, or I Can Problem Solve (ICPS), is her adaptation of that program for parents. Her research suggests that this program may have far-reaching effects in the lives of children who participate, although such evidence is not the focus of this book. Here, she outlines her program, which is designed to help young children establish an approach to conflict that involves recognizing their options and weighing the consequences of their actions.
Underlying the program's approach is Shure's belief that children as young as age four are capable of finding and evaluating possible solutions to problems. Shure emphasizes that the parent's role is not one of thinking for the child, but one of "guide[ing] the child to think about the problem" (p. 163). In the ICPS approach, parents learn not to tell their children what to think, but to help children develop skills that enable them to think through problems for themselves.
ICPS encourages parents to develop children's understandings of language concepts through different kinds of word play. In distinguishing between such word meanings as same/different, why/because, and fair/not fair, children are equipped with an understanding of concepts central to conflict management, such as contrast, causality, and fairness. Next, parents help their children to understand feelings such as anger, sadness, happiness, and frustration, and to recognize those feelings in themselves and others. Parents can then build on these pre-problem-solving skills, asking children to pose alternative solutions to problems. The author stresses that it is important to accept all of the child's suggestions, as the goal is not to evaluate but to encourage many different possible actions children could take in response to a conflict. Finally, children practice considering consequences of the possible actions they could take to problem-solve. The ultimate goal of the program is that children become able to bring together these abilities in an effective manner when conflicts arise.
Shure introduces the program primarily through example. She creates a composite family of the families she has worked with and describes the development of the program within this family. The concepts are introduced to the child as a game between parent and child. In a typical ICPS scenario, as the child develops skill in finding alternative solutions, the parent describes a situation to the child ("Let's pretend that a six-year-old girl wants her brother to let her use his video game" [p. 87]) and asks the child to suggest what the protagonist might do. When the child suggests one possibility, the parent validates it and asks for another, emphasizing that the game is to find as many ideas as possible. Shure follows up a description of each step of the program, with many dialogues of the prototypical family in different situations to demonstrate how the skill is introduced and what issues may arise. After children are introduced to hypothetical situations, the ideas of the game are integrated into daily activities such as shopping, playing, and eating meals. For example, in a situation in which a child fights with her brother over a crayon, the parent is encouraged to ask the child what different ideas she might try and how her brother might feel or what he might do if the child takes those actions, emphasizing words such as "different" and "might." The second part of the book includes examples of games, activities, and dialogues useful in the different steps of the program. The organization of the book lends itself well to a parent audience for use as a guide in their homes.
Throughout her book, Shure expresses a firm belief in the child's capabilities. Based on her research experience, she disagrees with child development experts' claims that "young children are unable to consider how their actions make others feel" (p. 40). She considers the children representative of the families with whom she has worked. They often rise to and at times surpass parents' expectations that children can identify possible courses of action and choose appropriately from among them. She stresses the necessity of understanding how the child identifies the problem, which may differ from the parent's perception. Shure's approach builds on previous work on parenting, which proposes effective parenting skills; yet her contribution shifts from focusing on the parent's role to considering the child's equally active role in resolving conflict.
While maintaining respect for the abilities of children, Shure also portrays realistically the challenges of working with four-year-olds. Her many examples of the kinds of scenarios that arise between children and between adults and children are believable, and the possible dialogues around those scenarios natural. The children in her dialogues offer the kinds of suggestions real children offer. For example, in considering ways to get candy from someone, the child suggests, "She could wait till he's not looking and then take it" (p. 89). Further, the author respects the needs of parents as well as those of children. She encourages her readers to use some of the ICPS techniques to understand further the child's way of thinking and feeling, as when she asks parents to question how they assess their children's feelings, and to consider alternative means of determining those feelings.
Raising a Thinking Child provides an accessible guide for parents and teachers working with young children, and, ultimately, a valuable skill for the children themselves, as they develop productive ways of thinking about solving conflicts.