Sibling Fights—Empowering Kids with Mediation

Sibling Fights—Empowering Kids with Mediation

How can you be on both your children's sides when siblings start fighting?

Zuzana Mackova, parent coach and graduate of our Coaches Training program, shows you how.

Instead of jumping in to solve her sons' fight, she WAITED, used SAY WHAT YOU SEE®, then turned the problem-solving over to them in an empowering mediation.

Their solution for sharing surprised her!

Loud Voices

Standing in the kitchen of my mother's house washing dishes, I suddenly heard loud voices. I listened and waited...I always wait. Loud voices can mean excitement during the play or the beginning of a fight.

For some time I was asking myself when and how to step in when my kids are in conflict. What was clear to me was that solving the disagreement for them meant robbing them of the opportunity to practice problem-solving. So one day I made an agreement with myself to step in as a mediator even though I wasn't sure what I was stepping into.

I was standing in the kitchen listening carefully to what was going on in the next room. When my younger son, George, started to cry, I put down the plate I had in my hands and walked into the room. Tears together with physical aggression signaled me to step in.

Kids Need Help, Not Solutions

SAY WHAT YOU SEE: "Sounds like you need help," I said aloud.

This statement was for my benefit more than for my boys. I trained myself to use this sentence to remind myself I am not coming to rescue them or to judge them but to support them as a mediator. My goal is to bring their awareness to what is going on and hold the space for them to find a solution that will work for both.

I sat down on the floor next to them to ground myself and to be on their eye level. It took me some time to realize that when I do this I enter into their world, see it from their perspective, and consciously make myself truly listen.

Language of Listening® Mediation

They were sitting opposite each other surrounded by toy cars. Mike had three toy cars close to him, and George had five. I used SAY WHAT YOU SEE to describe what was happening without taking sides.

SAY WHAT YOU SEE: "Something's not working the way you both would like it to."

"George has my cars, I bought them!" Mike shouted.

"But I brought them to Grandma's!" George shouted back.

I repeated each child's case as simply as I could, then stated the problem that needed to be solved.

SAY WHAT YOU SEE: "Mike wants to play with his cars, George. Mike, George brought your cars to Grandma's. They would not be here if he hadn't brought them. It seems you both want to play with the same cars."

"He has more cars then I do, that's not fair," Mike shouted. "I want my two cars back, I bought them!"

Realizing the disagreement was not only about specific cars but also about the number of cars, I refocused their attention from the stuck place to problem-solving.

CAN DO: "Hmm. George has five cars, and Mike has three cars. There must be something you can do about this...some way to solve this." 

Kid Solutions Are Not Like Ours

"I have an idea! George, would you like these two cars?" Mike suggested, showing George two of his three cars. His voice softened. "We can trade them.  I will give you these two cars, and you can give me mine."

To my surprise, George replied with a calm and happy voice: "Yes, Mike, I like these two cars," and he offered Mike the cars that were the cause of the dispute and took those Mike offered. Mike still had only three cars and George had five. I did not point that out as they both looked satisfied, but the problem-solving went on:

Mike said, "I will take the Lego Technic car to have four cars," then went to the next room and brought back the car he was building the day before.

George said, "Mommy, you can have this car," as he handed me one of the five cars he had. "Now I have four cars and Mike has four cars."

I thanked him for the car, and made sure to name the STRENGTH for them so they were aware of it.

STRENGTH: "Yes, now you both have an equal number of cars, and you are happy with the cars you have. Even though you were frustrated, you found a solution that works for you both. You are problem-solvers!

I stood up and went back to the dishes proud of how well they resolved the problem and how creative they were.

Staying Grounded Pays Off

Throughout the whole dispute, there was a battle inside me. One part of me was scared that they would not reach a conclusion with me only mediating, while another part of me wanted to jump in and solve it for them quickly—the dishes were still unwashed.

Luckily that day another part of me was in charge, the grounded self. I was consciously trying to connect to my grounded self and stay present from the very moment I heard loud voices. The grounded self prevailed and was holding a safe, non-judgmental space in which, to my surprise, the boys solved the problem pretty quickly and found a solution that I would never have come up with myself.

Becoming a mediator rather than a judge is a difficult and challenging task for me. It's more about self-management than about the people in the conflict. I am practicing listening with an open heart and mind, watching my own emotions, holding a safe space, making statements rather than judgments, and believing in the greatness of others.

In those moments when I'm able to hold everything in place, my children and I experience how conflicts can turn into moments of deep connection and cooperation. And there are also moments when I have a hard time seeing the big picture, and I immerse myself into the conflict, and everything falls apart. In these situations, I try to remind myself that I'm a human being making mistakes and learning from them as much as my children are.

Being a parent is hard and exhausting and at the same time extremely satisfying and empowering, especially when you remember your kids are their own best problem-solvers.

 


Mothering Blog Author with BabyZuzana is the author of Mothering.cz blog. She has always been interested in human development. When she first learned that she was going to become a mother, she started collecting information to support the development of children from birth onward. In her search she discovered the Montessori method and Language of Listening® coaching which she explores with Slavic readers on her blog.

7 Comments

  1. As always, thanks for another useful, informative, helpful blog!

    • Sandra, so nice to hear from you again! Zuzi uses her coaching skills on a daily basis with her sons and the children she teaches at a preschool. I’m always grateful when she can find the time to share an example and her insights with us here. I’ll let her know you found it helpful. Feel free to share this with your colleagues.–Sandy

      • Sandy, i train EC staff and have shared your website with many, many teachers! Your teaching fits so well with PBIS, FLIP-IT and now my Yoga Calm training.

        I am always an enthusiastic supporter of Language of Listening/Say What You See!

        Thank you for all you do to help calm and regulate adults and children. 🙂

        Sincerely, Sandra

  2. Very interesting experience. Unexpected solution. Really inspiring.

  3. Yahaira Spencer |

    I am separated and live with my parents therefore it is a weird situation. My 3 year old is getting angry at me. Should I be worried or is it a normal behavior.
    My 7 year old is fine he is really close to me but the little one seems angry.

  4. Yahaira, this is probably a very stressful time for you and your whole family. I hope your parents are able to provide the kind of loving, stable environment you and your children need in order to move through this challenging time as smoothly as possible.

    You have noticed a change in your 3 YO’s behavior and are worried enough to ask me about it. There are many reasons for your little one to be angry, especially in a new living situation with one parent absent. Children often have difficulty adjusting to a new situation, especially one of this magnitude, and will pick up on the stress of those around them.

    Rather than second-guessing whether or not your child’s anger is normal, I would say trust your instincts. If you sense there is something new or unusual about the level of anger you are seeing, or if you would simply like a professional opinion, then don’t hesitate to contact a mental health professional for an assessment. A play therapist who works with parents or families, not just children, would be ideal. You can search for someone in your area on the Association for Play Therapy website: https://www.a4pt.org (RPT means Registered Play Therapist; an RPT-S has the added credential of Supervisor).

    Given the changes both of your children have experienced, I would also highly recommend reading and implementing Dr. Theresa Kellam’s book, The Parent Survival Guide. It teaches you how to set up playtimes with each child that can help them handle any challenges they are facing. She teaches you the same skills play therapists use so you can work with your own children at home. You can it find on my Recommended Reading page: https://www.languageoflistening.com/resources/recommended-reading/#kellam

    And if you haven’t read my SAY WHAT YOU SEE® handbook yet, you can read it free on my website to learn exactly how to respond to your child’s anger: https://www.languageoflistening.com/resources/read-swys-book

    You can also search “anger,” “tantrum,” etc. on this page in the column at the right and read the many blog posts my coaches and I have posted on anger and tantrums to see more examples of how to respond in a way that allows your child to calm themselves.

    You have my best wishes for a smooth transition into your new life.–Sandy

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