Sunday, May 19, 2013

Be a Mediator!

My April Parenting Resolution was to be a mediator.  While my children are about four and half years apart they still find plenty of opportunities for conflict.  In my experience working with other parents it has become clear that many of us find navigating sibling conflict to be one of the toughest parenting jobs.

Being a mediator can be a great approach when dealing with conflict in a neutral way.  While we all know that we shouldn't take sides when there is a conflict between two or more children, it is not always as easy as it sounds.  For many parents and teachers our first response is to deal with the child who seems to be the instigator.  This can be damaging not only for the child who is always receiving the correction, but also the other "innocent" party.  I talked about how this can make one child into the "victim" in my post Put Kids In The Same Boat.  Besides, we aren't always right about who started it.

The definition of Mediate, according to Merriam-Webster online, is to occupy a middle position.  The opposite of taking sides.  To be a mediator in a parenting or teaching role would sound something like, "It looks like we have a disagreement here, what can we do to resolve it?"  In her book, Raising Happiness, Dr Christine Carter says that we can look at conflict between our children as an opportunity for learning positive conflict resolution.  A skill that has been linked to increased academic performance, self esteem, self-confidence, higher level reasoning, and creative problem solving.  The other thing is that once you have taught this skill of conflict resolution enough times your children will be able to begin to do it on their own.  That sounds great to me!

I gave it a try for the month and found it to be a lot more difficult than it sounds.  Perhaps the age of my children contributed to my difficulty.  My two year old lacks reasoning skills, patience, and an interest in taking turns just yet.  These are all completely normal two year old behaviors.  He is probably not really capable of true conflict resolution at this point.  That doesn't mean that it is too early to start giving him some of the language involved, modeling solution brainstorming , and expressing and restating feelings.

This whole business about addressing the situation with calm words and helping the children identify their feelings proved to be very helpful with both children.  Our youngest has been really responsive to us acknowledging his feelings, and our six year old is working on expressing her feelings.

While I don't think that they are quite ready for coming up with and agreeing on solutions together, we will continue to talk about solutions and work toward that.

For May, the month of Mother's Day, I will be working on Taking Care of Me for my Parenting Resolution.