Technique: By now, both kids have vented as well as demonstrated that they heard their sibling. They are ready for step 3.
“B” is for Brainstorming. Invite the kids to come up with solutions. No idea is too crazy or far-fetched. Don't be surprised if “kid solutions” sound a lot different from what you feel is reasonable or fair! If the ideas are flying fast and furious, you may want to write them down. Or, if the kids are really little, make simple stick drawings to illustrate each idea.
Once you have more than two suggestions on the table, things can get very interesting. I think of it as The Magic of Idea #3. The first two suggestions are usually along the lines of “I get to have the truck”/”No, I get to have the truck.” Once this falls flat, the kids realize they have to get more inventive. Here is where your patience may be rewarded! A third idea means that someone has detached from his position enough to imagine a fresh option. The very act of doing this may help the other party to loosen her grip on her position. Here you may detect a significant shift – when “you and me against each other” becomes “you and me against the problem."
Brainstorming is a good time to try for balance. It may not be enough for Lisa to say she will stop calling Quentin a “baby” when he annoys her. Is there something Quentin can put on the table in exchange? A specific annoying behavior that he can agree to stop? Or a desired behavior that he can try out? That's the essence of win/win.
Tip: Brainstorming is creative and collaborative. Try to keep the kids from critiquing or comparing the various ideas as they are offered. (If necessary, remind them that they will have the opportunity later to weigh all the ideas and offer opinions.) Ridicule and criticism shut down creativity like nothing else, and Brainstorming should be an unfettered, freewheeling part of the mediation process. You may have to stifle your own critical thoughts too!
Q: Dear Susie – We've been practicing Talking and Acknowledging and the kids are starting to get it. However, my older boy is very low key about expressing his emotions. He will say “I'm mad” in a quiet voice but I can see he's seething. Meanwhile, my younger boy is very extravagant about expressing emotions. Can I (or should I) try to balance things out in some way?
A: Dear Parent – Yes, mediators use Power Balancing all the time! I think you're talking about differences in temperament, and I firmly believe that these qualities of personality are “baked into” who we are. Mediation doesn't turn lions into lambs or vice versa, but it does help address liabilities of temperament. When you are using Active Listening to get at feelings, it's OK to say to your older boy, “Joshua, you said 'I'm mad' in a quiet voice but I'm looking at your face and your body and it looks to me like you're very, very angry. Is that right? If he agrees, then when it's time for his younger brother to Acknowledge, be sure he captures the full weight of Joshua's anger. This is how we write each boy's feelings in the same size font!
Keep the great questions coming...