Today, I went back to school. Well, sort of. It’s only for four days. But it’s the first time I’ve been in a classroom setting since I graduated from law school in 2000. It felt kind of strange. And nice. And exciting to have the privilege of setting aside some time to learn something new outside the scope of the hands-on learning I experience almost daily as a lawyer.
I’m getting certified to be a mediator.
My hope is that it will expand the scope of my current practice, and also, lay the groundwork for me to do some things outside of litigation and more in line with ministry.
And besides that. Who couldn’t use some training in conflict resolution?
We all deal with it. In almost every aspect of our lives.
During class today, our instructor stressed the importance of neutrality and impartiality:
“Mediators are NOT fact-finders,” she said.
And as the words passed from her lips, I had a terrifying flashback. To the first time I had two children standing at my feet, a little boy telling me that his sister threw dirt in his face, and a little girl telling me that her brother “hit her first.” Both denying the others claim.
I stood there dumbfounded. Frozen in my tracks. Because I hadn’t seen “the incident.” And I didn’t know who was telling the truth.
So like all good mommy-lawyers do, I began interrogating my children. Not too differently than I would interrogate a witness during a deposition. (Bless their hearts to have me for their mom.)
I don’t remember exactly what questions I asked. But I do remember that their eyes crossed, and when little brother finally confessed to the hitting, I wasn’t sure if he was being honest, telling me what he thought I wanted to hear, or experiencing utter confusion.
These kinds of incidents began to happen rather frequently, and for a season spanning more than a few months, I continued to struggle my way through it. And then I listened to a speaker giving a session on sibling rivalry, and I learned a critical parenting principle:
Mommies Are Not Fact-Finders
At least not when navigating he said/she said disputes between their children that they weren’t an eye witness to. Because when a mommy tries to judge the credibility of her children without having been an eye-witness to the incident, she is treading dangerous waters.
What if she gets it wrong?
What kind of message will that send to the child who was telling the truth but has been coined the liar?
How will that affect mommy’s relationship with that child or the relationship between the children involved?
Real damage can be done.
So what’s the alternative? How are moms (and dads) supposed to respond in these kinds of scenarios?
There may be a variety of appropriate techniques. But based on my own reading and study, and in light of the parenting philosophy we draw from, we’ve developed this five-step approach to navigate our way through these kinds of conflicts between our kids. Taking the above-scenario of alleged dirt flinging and left hooks, I will generally respond as follows:
1. Confirm that no one is broken or bleeding. If there are injuries to tend to, we’ll deal with those first. The other involved children will go sit on their beds while boo boos are mended.
2. Once all wounds have been addressed, I’ll tell them that because I didn’t see what happened, I can’t get involved to try to determine who’s telling the truth and who’s at fault.
3. I will remind all of them of the “house rules” — no dirt flinging, no left hooks. Period.
4. I will also remind them that I expect each of them to control their own behavior and that their sibling’s decision to commit a wrong against them doesn’t give them the right to retaliate. We’ll brainstorm alternative responses to retaliation together.
5. I will send them on their way, telling them that if they can’t figure out how to get along, then they will lose the freedom of playing together.
Usually this diffuses the situation. But if there begins to be a cycle, then I will make like a detective and spy! I’ll catch the offender(s) red-handed and instill appropriate consequences to address the misbehavior.
I’ve found that this approach is simple. It doesn’t create scenarios that bog me down. It puts the onus back on the kids to manage their relationships. And it’s highly effective in reducing the amount of tattling that goes on in our home. Because kids tend to stop tattling on their siblings when they realize they aren’t going to get anywhere with mom or dad.
What strategies do you utilize to navigate conflict between your kids when you don’t have the benefit of being an eye-witness?