Technique: So far, both kids have had time for Talking. Moving right along...
“A” is for Acknowledging. Have each child say what is on the other child's mind by re-stating it, even if this feels repetitive. Be sure the listener's re-state includes the emotional piece of the speaker's message. (Often the second speaker will try to use the Acknowledge phase to launch a rebuttal against what she just heard. Remind her that this is just the “talk and listen” part of the mediation, and that discussing comes later.)
Letting each child speak and be heard is critically important because it helps both children “feel felt,” in the words of Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell (Parenting from the Inside Out.) When we hear our opponent accurately reflect what is bothering us – and why – we calm down. Feeling soothed prepares us to get down to the business of problem-solving.
Tip: Active Listening is a wonderful communication tool! That's pretty much what Acknowledging is. “It hurt your feelings when I called your doll stupid” contains an emotion and a trigger. You may have noticed it's a lot like an I-Message turned around. Perhaps you were modeling Active Listening yourself, during the Talking part of the mediation. As you probed for feelings and offered emotion words, you helped the kids formulate their I-Messages. Not only does Active Listening (Acknowledgment) oil the wheels of any mediation; it reinforces a useful habit for responding to distressed people in general. In this way, every mediation serves as a rehearsal for reacting effectively in any emotionally charged situation – and being able to calm, rather than escalate, that situation. Once kids realize that Acknowledgment isn't caving in or giving in, they begin to appreciate what a powerful tool they have at their disposal!
Q: Dear Susie – My younger child Aaron is very excitable and impulsive. Because of that, I let him Talk first. But he still found it really hard to sit through Simon's Talk – and to really listen to what he had to say! What do I do about that?
A: Dear Parent – Sometimes it's best to use a TA-TA process (Aaron Talks, Simon Acknowledges, then Simon Talks, Aaron Acknowledges.) Usually, TT-AA works just fine (both parties Talk, then both parties Acknowledge.) This is a judgment call, and it can depend on how the mediation is flowing. Just be sure that both children get a chance to be heard and to demonstrate that they have heard. That's the important thing!