How and When to Mediate

Obviously your not going to mediate every conflict that occurs. My rule of thumb is that I always try to get the children to mediate on their own first. At the beginning of the year, though, they'll need more assistance in doing this—as in the previous scenario—than they will later. By mid- to late-October children should be somewhat comfortable with the process, and you should be able to send them off to a "Work It Out" spot to self-mediate. Always ask the disputants to get back to you and tell you the solution they came up with.

Many schools have the following abbreviated Win/Win Guidelines printed on "business cards" to give to each child

Abbreviated Win/Win Guidelines

  1. Cool off.
  2. "I message"
  3. Say back
  4. Take responsibility
  5. Brainstorm solutions
  6. Affirm, forgive, or thank.

Children can pull out their cards and use them as guides when they have conflicts. The more you role play and showcase resolutions of conflicts early in the year, the more adept children will become at resolving their conflicts independently as time goes on.

If a conflict is recurrent or serious, I generally will mediate it. Another situation I'll often mediate is one involving triangles which can be too complex for children to handle on their own. As noted before, my school has peer mediators to help with conflicts. In schools that have conflict resolution programs with no peer mediation, children who have a natural knack for peacemaking will often step in and help their peers. Early in the year, however, you will want to select some common conflicts like the one you just read about to mediate in front of the class for the purpose of showcasing. The showcasing gives children valuable practice in the art of conflict resolution.

There are a number of things you will need to remember when you mediate a conflict.

  • Make sure the children have cooled off enough. If either party is still too angry to sincerely work out the problem, try mediating later, or the following day.
  • Have the children face each other and speak to each other directly. You should stand off to the side. Let them own the process.
  • Make sure the children speak to each other respectfully—no negative faces, body language, or tone of voice. Sarcasm is absolutely unacceptable.
  • Don't allow the children to interrupt each other. Remind them the first time one tries to interrupt the other. If the interruptions continue, stop the process.
  • Don't take sides. Allow the children to discuss the problem with each other as thoroughly as they need to after giving their "I messages." Make sure each child reflects ("says back") what the other has said. You can help the process by reflecting what you hear from time to time, summarizing the main points. A teachers summary is especially helpful if the mediation get stuck.
  • Allow the children to come up with their own solutions. Don't do it for them. The only way for children to take full ownership of the mediation process is to recognize their ability to self-mediate.

With kindergartners and preschoolers you will want to abbreviate the process. Start by making sure the children are cooled off (essential at any age). Have them sit or stand facing each other and say to one child, "Tell (the other child) what's on your mind, starting from 1."' Then encourage the other person to reflect, "Tell (the first child) what you heard, starting with "I heard you say. . . ." Have each child do this. Then ask, "How do you want to solve your problem?" Let them come up with their own solutions, but give prompts if necessary. Lastly, have the children shake hands, hue, or thank each other.


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