Technique: Now you're ready to actually start mediating! To make mediation systematic and easy to follow, I came up with a nemonic device: Mediation is the opposite of COMBAT.
TABMOC, right? We'll start with T and work our way to C.
"T" is for Talking. Invite each child to talk about the situation. Give everyone plenty of time to say what is on his or her mind. This is not the time for arguing or rebuttals. Remind them that everyone will have a chance to talk. Get them to talk about what happened and how they felt about it. In this way, you help them frame I-Messages: “I feel [emotion] when you [verb].” This is how you get from “You're mean!” or “You're a poopy head” to “I felt sad when you said that to me” and “I was very angry when you knocked over my blocks.”
Tip:Try not to focus on “who started it” or “who had it first.” Keep it neutral with questions like “What happened?” or “What's going on.?” You might want to begin with the child who seems most agitated. Ask lots of questions to assist them in putting together I-Messsages:
What did she do that bothered you? How did that make you feel?
Little kids might need help with the emotion words. It's perfectly OK for you to guess as long as you make it clear it's just your best guess, not an all-knowing label. More questions may lead you to shift gears. “Oh, now I see – it sounds like you were more jealous than frustrated!” All the while, you are building their emotional literacy as well as your understanding of your children.
The beauty of an I-Message is that it's inarguable. Try it yourself!
I get so discouraged when I see your socks on the floor next to the hamper.
Think about how this opener is better than “You're such a slob!” or “You never put your socks in the hamper.” I-Messages give people something to think about, rather than something to resent and defend. And remember – I-Messages are highly contagious!
Q: Dear Susie – We are really having a lot of squabbling in our family right now...our younger daughter (age 4) struggles with sensory processing issues. This absolutely torments her older sister (age 6) who herself seems to fall into the category of "highly sensitive child." It feels like we're in quicksand and we can't get out of these cycles of arguing and seemingly unreasonable behavior.
A: Dear Parent – I hope that I-Messsages will help build understanding within each girl about her sister's struggle. When Hannah says, “I feel [emotion] when you [verb],” thank her for explaining. Turn to Rachel and wonder out loud, “I'm thinking abut how we can help with that...” No need to pursue further. You've dropped a little seed of empathy in the ground. Watch and see if it sprouts.
Please keep the questions coming...they really help uncork the energy! Next week you'll learn step two of a mediation. (What do you think "A" is for?)