Learning Package 3
The Mediation Skills learning package is for parents who wish to enrich their knowledge on mediating skills between children and parents and amongst children. Those skills include clear language, good communication, and critical thinking skills. Parent-child mediation is designed to resolve or manage family disputes and improve family functioning. Through this package, parents will be able to reflect on their mediating skills in conflicts between their children (and peers). To support this learning package, we have worked with an interesting theory: “Parenting Theory” by Alice Van der Pas, which we explain further in this learning package. On that note, the “Good Enough Parenting” Theory can come in handy as well – to learn more about this theory, check the PROBLEM-SOLVING SKILLS LEARNING PACKAGE.
 Simpson, L. (2017). Mediation can be an effective parenting technique for family disagreements. Retrieved on 12 October 2021 from https://www.huffpost.com/archive/ca/entry/mediation-can-be-an-effective-parenting-technique-for-family-dis_a_23032431
After going through the learning package, parents will be able to:
- Learn how to set boundaries;
- Comprehend all phases of mediation;
- Know how to behave the best way possible when children are in conflict ;
- Understand and list the different actions when dealing with non-stop arguing children.
After the learning package, the parent should be able to:
- Mediate between children when necessary;
- Control own behaviour of not projecting own negative feelings on their children;
- Apply all phases of mediation;
- Apply the methods for sibling conflict resolution.
“Before having kids, I didn’t know splitting a cookie could ignite a brawl. But as a parent I’ve learned that even the smallest things can cause a war.” – Jackie Goldschneider
“He’s breathing on me” or “she changed the channel” are among the shrieks that echo through my home on any given day. And my reactions to their fights range from screaming “STOP” to separating my kids and even locking myself in the bathroom. When I went to fellow parents, they almost always nod in agreement, letting me know I’m not alone.” 
Parenting can be hard and there is no universal method, family management is not something that is taught in formal education – Parent (S4P focus group)
If you grew up with siblings, you may remember at least one spectacular disagreement with them that ended with your parents separating you, levying consequences, and forcing apologies—or a similar scenario. Interventions like that may be necessary in the moment, but research suggests that when it comes to children’s disputes, parents can play a much more impactful role: mediator. 
Knowing how to mediate in a correct way allows to solve short term problems as well as long term problems – Parent (S4P focus group)
“Mediation empowers disputants to resolve conflicts between themselves,” according to Hildy S. Ross and Marysia J. Lazinski. “When parents are participants, they encourage the children to articulate their own interests and the important emotional consequences of their disputes. At the same time, they empower the children to do the future-oriented planning that will enable them to resolve their differences. In that way, parents elevate their children’s conflict resolution skills, but the children learn by their own participation and that of their siblings.” 
One debate in the literature focuses on whether parents should intervene when their children fight. For instance, Dreikurs (1964) suggested that parents stay out of their children’s conflicts so that children are given the opportunity to develop their own conflict resolution skills. He believed that children’s fighting is ultimately a bid for attention, maintained by parent involvement, and urged parents to resist their children’s attempts to gain their support, a belief that persists today.
Conflict management can be stressful, but also can create crucial moments to foster team spirit between the parents and the children – Parent (S4P focus group)
In contrast, Herrera and Dunn (1997) argued that by intervening in sibling conflict, parents provide their children with a conflict resolution model from which children can learn necessary skills and constructive resolution strategies.
In the past, many studies were done to find out the most effective ways to handle conflicts amongst children. With or without parental involvement? In this perspective, research showed that siblings tend to be more aggressive with each other when their mother was present, and conflicts tend to last longer. Although the conflicts are quite intense where parents are involved, researchers found out that children in these families displayed more conciliatory behaviours. On the other hand, when children are left on their own while handling conflicts, the older children most often win these disputes. It looks like some kind of parental intervention during conflicts amongst children, can do no harm.
Mediation can be used as a beneficial parenting tool with children as young as 5 years of age. In these cases, the mediation process has been specifically adapted for use in the family setting. In mediation, parents control the negotiation process and facilitate talk regarding the emotional states and interests of their children, while at the same time empowering them to come up with their own solutions to their disagreements.
Past studies of parent mediation have found that parent mediation gives young children a better understanding of their siblings’ positions and encourages them to use more constructive conflict resolution strategies, including speaking calmly, sharing their perspectives, listening to their siblings, explaining their actions, apologising, and suggesting solutions. Mediating parents and children are more likely to discuss the children’s emotions and reasoning, and parents are less likely than control parents to tell the children how to resolve their issues. Rather, mediating parents direct discussion toward their children’s interests and emotions and guide them to resolve their differences without offering suggestions of their own.
Source: Irmler, D. (2020). Siblings hugging [digital image]. Retrieved from Unsplash
When parents mediate, younger siblings are better able to make use of such constructive resolution strategies such as suggesting resolutions, and older siblings are less likely to dominate the discussion. Such mediation processes have been shown to empower younger siblings.
Learn how the mediation process works, helping you to advance as a 21-century parent and/or educator, and read the next pages.
 Dunn, J., & Herrera, C. (1997). Conflict resolution with friends, siblings, and mothers: A developmental perspective. Aggressive Behavior, 23(5), 343–357
- Overall mediation tips and tricks and further resources about mediation between kids mediate.com
- Handling conflicts between older kids: https://www.counselorkeri.com/2019/03/04/teach-kids-conflict-resolution/
- 7 ways to teach kids to manage their own conflicts: https://www.edutopia.org/article/7-ways-teach-kids-manage-their-own-conflicts
Mediation: Parent-child mediation is designed to resolve or manage family disputes and improve family functioning. Mediation is a voluntary method of dispute resolution in which a neutral third party assists individuals who are in conflict with each other in reaching a settlement.
Parent empowerment: A process by which individuals gain mastery and control over their lives and a better understanding of their environment.
« CONFLICT MANAGEMENT is seen by parents as important because it is inevitable that when they make decisions as responsible adults, bearing in mind the long-term well-being of the children, that children will not always like it and sometimes disagreements will arise. In their opinion, this is where MEDIATION SKILLS would help as a way of fostering alliances and setting healthy boundaries in a way that shows respect for children »
– Comparative report, Skills4Parents, 2021
Mediation is a procedure in which the parties discuss their disputes and reach a common settlement. Parents believe that in relation to this process it is important to develop listening skills, positive communication, self reflecting and empathy. To read more about effective communication skills, we refer to the learning unit about “COMMUNICATION” & “EMPOWERMENT SKILLS”. It is also essential to set boundaries in order to prevent the disputes getting out of hand. When setting boundaries you aknowledge the importance to respect the feelings of your children, but also to make sure you will be resprected as a parent too. It might be forgotten when mediating, but will be only beneficial for all parties.
Setting and respecting personal boundaries
We can imagine personal boundaries as invisible fences (with gates) that separate us emotionally and physically from the people around us. These boundaries are the rules and constraints we set in our relationships with other people – and they are ideally where we set them ourselves.
Setting boundaries means that you know yourself – what you like and what you do not like, what is acceptable to you, and what is not – and also having the skills to communicate all of that. Sometimes your boundaries will be softer, sometimes firmer, sometimes you will say yes, and sometimes firmly no. Sometimes you will open that door, and sometimes you will lock it. All that matters is that whatever you do – it is your decision.
There are some basic rules for setting boundaries. Below are those rules you as a parent can set for your children:
- Do not call each other names. Disagreements or being angry is ok, but hurtful words or behaviour are not.
- Respect each other. After all, your children are part of the same family and even if there are disagreements between your children and their peers, respect should be the basis of each conflict. Make sure your children understand that they should treat others just like they want to be treated.
- Calmly state what upsets you and why. Make sure that your children can calmly say what is bothering them and why, so that there is clarity for the solution phase.
- Listen without interrupting. Just as your children want to be listened to, make them understand that they should also listen to each other when having an argument in order to find a common solution. 
HOW IT WORKS IN REAL LIFE:
THINK ABOUT THE FOLOWING SITUATIONS
- With a child: You are tired after an entire day at work and want to go home, but your child wants to stay a bit longer in the park.
- With your partner: You really dislike filling and emptying the dishwasher, but somehow you end up being the only one doing it.
- With a grandparent: You try to limit the amount of sweets your child has, but grandparents offer them to your child every time you visit.
WHAT SETTING BOUNDARIES CAN LOOK LIKE
- To a child: “I can see you are angry with me for wanting to go home from the park, but I am getting very tired and still have to drive us home. ”
- To a partner: “I am not comfortable with both filling and emptying the dishwasher. Will you please empty it before you go to work?”
- To a grandparent: “We try to limit the amount of sweets the children eat. Please don’t get them chocolate every time we come over. Can we stick to weekends only?”
In addition to setting personal boundaries that preserve our mental health, it is important to teach children to set their own boundaries and then respect them.
WHAT RESPECTING BOUNDARIES CAN LOOK LIKE
- Explaining to our infants why we are carrying or changing them.
- Respecting the “NO!” of our toddlers.
- Respectfully explaining why we need to do something after all.
- Not reading messages on our teenage daughter’s phone.
Respecting personal boundaries is not the same as disinterest and negligence – quite the opposite. It is the belief that we have created a good enough relationship with bonding techniques that the child will come to tell us on their own when something important is happening – not that we will have to find out through detective work.
 Lowell, 2021. Conflict Resolution: 5 Rules From a Mom to Resolve Conflicts at Home. Retrieved on the 30th of November 2021 from https://www.lifehack.org/503608/conflict-resolution-5-rules-from-mom-resolve-conflicts-home
We can send them to their rooms for a time-out, where they will undoubtedly use the time to plot revenge. We can put them in separate rooms and shuttle back and forth trying to convince them to be fair or reasonable. We can take away privileges such as computer time or visits with friends. We can also offer rewards for good behaviour, which is positive discipline, opposite to the punishments mentioned before and which is more effective. You can check the EMPOWERMENT SKILLS LEARNING PACKAGE to check how to use positive discipline and why exactly it is better than punishment.
As parents, all we want is peace and quiet. We just want our children to get along. So, how can we help them resolve their disputes quickly and effectively—for their sake and ours?
First, it is important to understand the different phases of mediation, which is explained in the following table. This mediation model can help you successfully guide your children through conflict resolution.
Set ground rules
Mediators must first set ground rules (see page previous section on boundaries) and behavioural guidelines which minimise escalations and that diminish the possibility of escalation and the hostility/anger between the parties that need mediation, for example two siblings.
Room for different perspectives
The issues are then identified, with disputants discussing their own perspectives. This allows the mediation to be directed toward finding a solution that satisfies each party’s concerns, as oftentimes in family problem-solving discussions family members have inconsistent views of what the problem is.
Build empathy and understanding
Next mediators build empathy and understanding between the disputants. This is an integral step because mutual understanding rarely occurs naturally during conflict, and a lack of such understanding makes conflict resolution difficult, usually leaving one party unsatisfied or bitter. Acknowledging and understanding how the sibling felt during the dispute can allow both children to move forward towards more conciliatory resolution. In mediation parents ask each child to restate what the other has said in order to build such understanding.
Propose and choose solutions
Lastly, the disputants are encouraged to propose possible solutions and then choose one that is mutually acceptable and attainable, thus focusing attention on the future and the realization of both parties’ goals.
Guiding children during their conflicts has been proven effective, provided that it is done in the right manner. The aim of the process is not to dictate how children should solve their problem, but help them figure out a solution on their own.
You play an important role in supporting the development of your child’s social skills. Children between the ages of 3 and 10 need to have positive give and take social interactions. They need mini-lessons on how to cultivate positive interactions between themselves and others in their social networks. During the development of the before-mentioned phases, think about the exemplary role you have as a parent, and the attitude you are reflecting on the arguing children.
– Physical contact: In some cases, it is important to hold the children. You may rub their backs during the interaction, depending on the intensity of the conflict, situation and children’s ages. Try to ask your children beforehand if they would like that.
– Make sure all voices are heard: Ask, “What happened here?” Make sure each child is given uninterrupted time to explain their view of the situation, within boundaries.
– It’s all about the children: Accept and reinforce the solution agreed on by the children. It may not make sense to you, but try to put yourself in your children’s shoes and imagine why their solution might work for them. Of course if there is a threat to the children’s health or mental wellbeing, their solution should be not accepted by you as a parent.
– Keep calm: Remain calm at all times during the process. Use simple, concrete language. Paraphrase any language that is hurtful.
– Ask open questions: End with an open-ended question. Example: “Neither one of you are getting what you want. What can we do to solve this problem?” Give the children lots of time to form their thoughts and speak. A question that can be answered with yes or no is not an open-ended question.
Sometimes, parents end up in a downward spiral during every day parenting, where (it seems) they cannot get out. This downward spiral has a negative impact on parents’ self-confidence regarding problem-solving and parenting in general. The atmosphere is getting worse and it looks like the same story is repeating every day. Here, the theory of Alice van der Pas can be applied.
It would be great for parents to know what are the foundations of this theory, so the problem can be tackled by its core. So, let’s explain the basic principles of parenting, according to the so-called “Parenting Theory” of Alice van der Pas, which can be used as a great corner stone in mediation processes; There is also another theory that can come in handy, which is the “Good Enough Theory”, which you can read about in the PROBLEM SOLVING SKILLS LEARNING PACKAGE.
Feeling comfortable in parenthood is important for the healthy and safe growth of children and when mediating in their conflicts. By parenthood we mean:
- The well-being of the parent
As parents, you know you are responsible and in the core, you always want the best for your children.
- The confidence of the parent
Parenting could make you insecure and vulnerable.
- The parental experience
You have to deal with parenting, in good and bad times. It is a job for life.
Source: Parents play game with kids from Unsplash
So… how to feel comfortable in parenthood?
The first quote which pops up is: “A happy parent, is a happy kid”! And there is a reason for that! If you feel comfortable and calm, you can handle almost every situation, also the conflicts of your children. Try to create the perfect circumstances where you can easily switch from one side to another. Ask your friends for help, enable your neighbors to support you whenever they can, make sure your work-life balance is in control, fix and solve personal problems before you turn to your children. It makes that you can breathe more easily and have the time to open up to your children. Try to reconnect with them and bring positive influences to their lives. Listen to them, talk to them and try to figure out what it is that they really want.
Additionally, try not to project your own feelings and mood on your children. Remember, if you just had a very stressful day at work and you have to pick up your children from school or daycare, buy groceries, make dinner and simultaneously expect your children to behave and obey without any resistance… you expect the impossible. Your children had a long day too and are tired just like you, when they are back home. Empathy is the keyword here. Try to take a step back, breathe, replace yourself into your children’s situations and make the best out of your day!
Talk to others! Start conversations with friends who have children too. Ask how they are holding up and figure out the same stuff you are going through. You might experience that you are not doing as bad as you thought and other parents are struggling too! Keep talking to them and ask them for advice – you can learn a lot from each other.
Source: Monkey Business Images. (n.d.). Mother Talking With Teenage Daughter on Sofa [digital image]. www.canva.com
If you are ending up in that downward spiral and you cannot find your way out… think of all the positive experiences in the past related to your parenting methods. The many times you enjoyed the presence of your children, that you have played games and had a laugh about their silly jokes. Try to pick up these positive experiences, build on to this and find your way back to a positive parenthood again.
For more about the above, you can find in EMPOWERMENT SKILLS LEARNING PACKAGE.
- Teaching kids how to deal with conflicts: https://childmind.org/article/teaching-kids-how-to-deal-with-conflict/
- Kids conflict resolutions: https://www.counselorkeri.com/2019/03/04/teach-kids-conflict-resolution/
- Simple mediation methods: https://www.mediate.com/articles/langM2.cfm
- Why parents should mediate: https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/519019
- Academic research on parent-child conflicts: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/236833642_Resolution_of_parent-child_conflicts_in_the_adolescence
- 9 steps on how to stop arguing with your child: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/how-to-stop-arguing-with-your-child/
- Stop fighting with your child: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/how-to-stop-fighting-with-your-child-do-you-feel-like-the-enemy/
Angela has two children, Bella, who is four years old and Fin, who is two. Bella wants to have the building blocks, which Fin is playing with in order to complete her little village. Angela intervenes by telling her daughter that she can play with the blocks, but only when Fin is finished with them, but Bella gets really furious. When she calms down, she offers Fin a deal: swapping toys, which Fin accepts. But after 10 minutes, Bella wants more blocks and offers her little brother a swap again, but now Fin does not want to swap his blocks. Bella bursts into tears and shouts that Fin is the meanest brother ever, after which Fin also has to cry.
The described situation above, is probably recognised by quite some parents and it is often very tempting to say to Bella not to speak like that to her little brother. However, this would most probably only add fuel to her resentment towards Fin and will lead to more conflicts, whether it is now or in the future. This is because most children will interpret this intervention not positively, like you only care about her brother.
Source: vitapix by Getty Images. (n.d.). Siblings fighting in the bedroom [digital image]. Retrieved from Canva
There are other ways to make sure your child accepts the solution you propose. You could propose both of your children to take turns and to time their turns, so that it is and feels fair for both of your children. Of course a clever bribe or threat, so that your toddler shares, is also a way, but do you want to encourage that in your children in their futures? Another way to solve the matter above, is to ask Bella to forgive, forget and to say sorry, but also ask Fin to share nicely with his sister.
These are examples to solve the conflict for the short term, but when looking at the long term, it will be more complex to solve all conflicts, with these proposed measures.
What does work on the long term? Empathy is the key word here. In this case, you could say:
It looks like you are really frustrated you really wanted those blocks, didn’t you?
Empathy helps the children to feel acknowledged. This shows that you have understood the problem and this will invite your, at first frustrated child, to share more. Receiving empathy is something that makes the children want to give empathy. Of course with a disclaimer, that they should not be fully overloaded with their frustration at the moment. This would require a more immediate action. 
There will be situations when empathy will not solve the conflict, then the five steps of problem solving from the PROBLEM SOLVING SKILLS LEARNING PACKAGE including conversation starters might come handy. Still calling upon your empathy, here is what a resolution step by step could look like:
– Analyse the scene and define the problem.
– Clarify what each wants and brainstorm for solutions.
– Evaluate solutions and choose one.
– Choose one solution together and try it. Slightly adjust a proposed solution if necessary.
– Review solution. Give feedback.
 Simperingham, G. (2021). The peaceful parenting approach to kid’s conflicts. Retrieved on 10th of September 2021, from https://www.peacefulparent.com/the-peaceful-parenting-approach-to-kids-conflicts/
Another scenario where parental mediation can be applied, is that of Julie (13) and Alice (14). Alice lent her book to Julie, which is damaged when Julie returns it to Alice. Alice is not amused to say the least and wants Julie to buy a new book for her. Julie refuses to buy a new book for Alice, as the damaged book ended that way by accident. Both girls are mad at each other and fight all the time about the issue.
Of course, when your child is fighting with their peers, it is not a pleasant situation. You as a parent can mediate during such situations too using the tips and advice you have seen here. There are a couple of actions you can undertake to do so through some steps:
- Make sure both your child and their friend/peers remain calm. You can suggest for them to take a long breath or to count to 10.
- Focus on both your child and their peer(s) being able to express their feelings, but also to listen to each other’s feelings. Often when the children are tired or upset, trying to talk about the issue will not work (well). Most of the time, it is best to wait until your child and their friend(s) are calm.
- Propose to both children to come up with possible solutions fit for everyone. Emphasise that there are no silly or stupid ideas to solve the conflict.
When nothing else works you can always teach your child to walk away and to turn to you (or other trusted adults) when they feel that the issue cannot be solved. 
Source: Fernandez, O. (2020.). Teens fighting [digital image]. Retrieved from Unsplash
When looking from the perspective of Alice van der Pas’ Parenting Theory, do not forget here to not project your own feelings of frustration and bad mood on your child if you are experiencing those. If you will be the role model for your children and their peers in this matter, you will be building on to your parental experience. This means that you will gain experience in parenting also regarding the conflicts that your children have with their friends.
 Burnett, C. (2021). 8 Tips for Helping Your Child Resolve Conflict and Be A Good Friend. Retrieved on 8th of November 2021, from https://childhood101.com/8-tips-for-helping-your-child-resolve-conflict-and-be-a-good-friend/
Dealing with non-stop arguing children
- Think before you act. Which can be applied in both situations if arguing with your children or stopping the dispute between your children. Stop acting from your first hunch, think and break your ‘normal’ habits.
- Reflect on your own behaviour. You are a role model to your children. Be the grown up and show how it works.
- Be aware of your pitfalls. Start evaluating where it goes wrong and you start yelling to your children. Is it the stress you had from work all day? Are you feeling sad because of other family matters?
- Teach your children how to deal with disputes. Show and tell them they need to remain calm and start talking. Follow the steps on mediating between your children.
- Connection is the key! Make sure there is a positive connection with your children. It will lighten up your day! How? Read the “Parenting Theory” from Alice van der Pas.
- Empathy will not kill anyone. Replace yourself into your children’s shoes. Did they have a rough day? How do they feel? Are they tired? Talk to them!
- Take care of yourself first. It will help to take care of others too!
- Do not decide for your children. Let them fail whenever they can. It will make them grow!
- Feel comfortable in parenthood. Take care of your own well-being, try to reflect your parenting style and figure out how it can be fun. Talk about your positive experiences, which will boost your new, good intentions.
- Talk to others! They are probably also struggling or have struggled with the same issues.
Source: Dinner with friends, from www.canva.com