Technique: Always begin by inviting the kids to mediate. This is your introduction, and there are two key things you need to make clear. One is that you are not going to take sides. The other is that you have ground rules. It's your neutrality and the ground rules which protect the process. An intro might sound something like this (dial it up or down according to the ages of the kids):
“I want to hear what both of you have to say and I want to help you figure out what to do. I'm not going to decide anything, you are. Do you agree to try hard, listen to each other and talk respectfully?” (You may need to provide detail about what you mean by “respectfully” – no name calling, shouting, rude gestures, etc.)
It's usually not hard to get people to agree to ground rules. Setting standards makes people feel safe. Maybe this is because each party figures it's the other person, not himself, who is likely to “lose it!”
Over time, your introduction will become streamlined. However, I urge you never to slight or skip this step. Recapping your neutral role and the ground rules sets an intention for all of you. It will get things off on the right foot and help steady the process. Now you're ready to begin! Next week you will learn the first step step in a mediation.
Tip: After getting a buy-in on your ground rules, you might ask your kids if they have any others that they would like to suggest as well. Then, before beginning, make sure everyone agrees to all the rules that have been put on the table. Not only does this help set the tone; the commitment stands as something you can refer back to if anyone's behavior goes out of bounds, which I guarantee will happen from time to time. Perhaps your family will invent and agree upon a set of ground rules that you can post on the fridge or family bulletin board.
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