“Drop The Rope!” A Simple Expression To Help Students Defuse Disputes

One of the more popular Field Day events throughout the years at the Lower School has been tug of war.

Those who embrace the spirit of competition look forward to showcasing their strength against another team. One must mentally prepare for the pull from the other side, ready to match and exceed it once the “Go!” command is shouted.


And then the tug begins – one side straining, pulling against the other. When the contest is close, you will often see the middle marker flag dance back and forth as each side creates an advantage.

But there is another “tug of war” that occurs on every playground that isn’t much fun. In fact, you can also see it in classrooms, in the hallways and perhaps even at home from time to time. Rather than the physical competition we see on Field Day, this tug of war manifests in the form of the verbal disagreements.

They may sound something like this:

“Yes, you did!”

“No, I didn’t!”

“YES, YOU did!”

“NO, I did NOT!”

This endless disagreement only continues because of the back-and-forth – or one side pulling against the other – nature of bickering. It seems to be human nature that when someone “tugs” on you, your first reaction is to “tug” back. And so it is with verbal disagreements.

So what can we do as educators, administrators and parents? At Lawrence, we encourage our Lower School students to “Drop The Rope” – a concept that was introduced at a recent morning assembly.

Picture a tug of war between two people with each side straining to gain an advantage. This alternating battle can continue for quite some time and only ends when someone finally gives up, exhausted from the fight. But even then, nothing has been resolved. More likely, both sides are left feeling hurt and those wounds take time to heal.

However, imagine what would happen if one side – rather than pull harder in the opposite direction – simply dropped the rope. The rope would fall to the ground and the other side would have nothing to pull against – the battle is over.

Although this doesn’t immediately resolve the initial conflict, it is effective in ending the disagreement. Only then, can subsequent steps be taken if necessary, such as getting other versions of the story, sharing perspectives, finding common ground, etc.

Lawrence staff and students have adopted this simple phrase as a clear directive to stop arguing. Each student also knows it is up to them to be the first to drop the rope and it’s not uncommon to hear them suggest to each other when it is an appropriate time to do so.

So don’t be surprised if your son or daughter uses this strategy at home. At least now, you’ll know what it means!


Bill Musolf joined Lawrence in June 2007 as the Dean of Students at the Lower School campus. He has been in education since 1993, serving as a school psychologist and elementary guidance counselor. Bill received his bachelor’s degree in Psychology from The Ohio State University, and completed both his master’s and Education Specialist degrees at Michigan State University. He can be contacted at bmusolf@lawrenceschool.org

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