Tangled- Parents as Mediators
Welcome back to my 5 part series on Parent Involvement called Tangled! (Part I here). A tricky and often messy subject worthy of controversy. In this series, I’ll try and untangle the common parenting dilemmas related to our roles as disciplinarians, mediators, teachers, coaches and therapists.
Kids in conflict. It starts on the playground and doesn’t end until senior prom. Or does it end? In the grips of social media today, sometimes I wake up in a time warp back in middle school. Middle age drama isn’t so different. (Didn’t we mature?!)
Now more than ever, parents need to be great mediators! Sure, there are times to be dictator (stay tuned for Parents as Disciplinarians) but mediating can be the most effective way to prepare your children for the real world. Let’s take a close-up look.
A beautiful day with your 5 year old son, Johnny, turns ugly. Johnny brought a ball to the playground and now another child, Sam, wants to play with it but Johnny refuses. Sam didn’t bring anything. Should you force Johnny to share his ball with Sam? Or should it be his choice?
Tension mounts on the park bench as you feel the vibes from Sam’s mom, subliminally begging for you to make her job easier. You’re wondering how you became the Emperor of the playground all of a sudden?! A nice afternoon suddenly turns stressful.
Quotes of a Parent Mediator:
Predict challenges and strategize ahead of time
“Johnny, what if another boy wants to play with your ball at the park today?” “If you went to the park and another boy had a cool toy you wanted to play with, would you want him to share with you?”
Be calm and accountable
“Johnny, this little boy would like to play with your ball for a few minutes. Do you think you could let him for just 5 minutes and then I’ll make sure you get it back? That would be such an awesome, nice thing to do. Don’t you think?”
Acknowledge ownership and choice
“Johnny, I see you’ve decided not to share because you’re playing with your ball right now. Maybe when you’re through, you might decide to let Sam play with your ball for a little while because you know he likes it too.” (The imaginary “ball” is now in Sam’s mom’s court. Best you deal with Johnny’s sharing issue when not in the heat of the controversy. It is Johnny’s ball and he has the right to play with it).
Your third grader, Darla, comes home crying because Missy and Lucy are being mean to her. She says they are talking bad about her behind her back and excluding her from activities. You’re Darla’s mom and you’ve heard through the grapevine that Missy can be mean and catty. What do you do? Call Missy’s mom? Tell Darla to ignore them and make other friends? Talk to the teacher or principal?
Quotes of a Parent Mediator:
Be a sympathetic fact gatherer
“Darla, I can see you’re upset. What happened today with Missy and Lucy and how did you feel?”
“If they were asked to say one thing that was bugging them about you, what do you think they might come up with?” (Don’t always assume your child is an innocent victim)
Empower and escalate interference
“Sometimes girls act like this to get a reaction. What if you just smiled and ignored them as if nothing they did bothered you? Think they might get bored being mean then? You can’t control their choices but you can influence how people treat you by your reactions.”
“The important thing is how you act and treat others. Who are the nice girls in your class you’d like to get to know better? If you were to be really brave and go up to one of them and ask if she wanted to play at recess, who would it be? I want a report back, ok? If you give this a try and it doesn’t work, together we’ll figure out the next step.” (Darla will feel she isn’t alone and you’re listening. Your reaction can raise the level of drama or calm it.)
Greg is a high school freshman and a good student. His progress report comes home showing a “D” in science. He says the teacher can’t find his lab report but he’s certain he turned it in. Greg is distraught because the teacher told him she wouldn’t change the grade unless he turned in the report. At parent-teacher conferences you suspected this teacher lacked organizational skills. You know your son is telling the truth. Do you intervene on his behalf? Should you advise him to re-do the report?
Quotes of a Parent Mediator:
Cater your response based on your sense of who’s responsible
“Greg, that stinks and is terribly unfair. I could tell myself she was disorganized. However, you are going to always have teachers and professors that have their own faults as we do, so we have to figure out ways to get through it. You can handle this challenge and make it right.”
Extract lessons from misfortune
“To prevent this from happening again, what could you do to safeguard yourself the rest of the semester?” (keep a copy of the report)
Brainstorm and make suggestions
“What are some options you might propose that would make it easy for her to say yes?” (options may include helping to look for the report, providing a verbal overview of what was in the report, referring her to lab partner’s report)
“Regardless that she lost your report, you may want to start out by telling her you understand that it is difficult to assign a grade for a report that has been misplaced, however, for that reason, you are asking her to compromise her normal policy.”
Remember, mediation isn’t necessarily about who’s right or who’s wrong. It is about effective resolution. Sometimes that requires trade-offs, negotiation, compromise, or in some cases surrender for the greater good, or to save time and stress.
A great parent mediator knows how to encourage action, expect results, while leaving control with the child. Pretend you are the front wheels of the car that your child is driving. Influence the direction of the car with great questions and suggestions. Only use the emergency brake or take over the steering wheel in extreme circumstances (i.e. serious bullying, violence, fear).
A parent’s reaction is more important than a parent’s strategy. From babies to teenagers, children feed off of our reactions. Don’t pull out the boxing gloves or crying towels, write an email or grab your cell, until you know the facts.
Show them you’ve got their back by helping them think. Leave the “doing” to them as much as possible.
Those conflicts in the sandbox translate well to the boardroom. Better to teach the skills when your children are on a forgiving surface.
Other related posts that may be of interest: