Making the Most of Everyone's Investment in Student Wellbeing and Development
Growing up involves a lot of challenges and a lot of emotion for everyone involved. As a parent, as a former elementary and middle school teacher, and as a mediator, I appreciate how difficult it can be to have conversations about behavior, choices, needs, family decisions and conditions at school. From a mediator’s perspective, what evokes both compassion and hope is the good heart of each that often gets dismissed amid the vulnerability and defensiveness each person feels with so much at stake. It is painful to see such goodness overlooked in the midst of conflict and emotion, but it is hopeful to know that that goodness is there and is a certain foundation upon which to build a collaboration that will respect everyone’s needs.
The student’s heart, no matter what behavior is manifesting, is still full of youthful goodwill and the needs of innocence. The parent’s heart is self-sacrificing, protective, wise and nurturing—humanity at its best and most vulnerable. The educator’s heart shares these qualities in a democratic, public service-oriented way that is heroic in its civic devotion, but that is also constrained by the requirements and realities of professional and institutional structures. Among the unique qualities student, parent and teacher or administrator each possess, there are many shared interests and yet many different ones too.
A Different, Better Conversation Is Possible
If each person affected by a given concern or involved in a given conflict is able to get down to their core needs, a completely different type of discussion is possible than the one accompanied by tensed jaws, distrustful words muttered under one’s breath and angry words flung in raised voices. A conversation is possible where each participant is able to acknowledge the legitimacy of the others’ needs and concerns, identify the interests shared, and think about ways to meet all needs, even the ones that conflict. In this place, there is a lot more room to find creative solutions to problems that in the other, triggered conversation seemed non-existent.
Given the daily interactions and nature of the relationships between kids, parents and schools, however, it’s no wonder that adults sometimes struggle in their efforts to help the student find the comfort, self-awareness and courage to identify and speak his or her most important needs.
Helping parents to establish the inward composure to identify and speak their most important needs is often difficult too. On one hand, children are experts at pushing buttons, as well as at finding ways to call into question one parenting skills. On the other hand, trusting your child and his or her development to the authority and judgment of a school can be extremely disquieting especially when one feels left out of the loop and that the choices made at school go against one’s natural instincts.
And teachers and administrators at school are also in a highly vulnerable situation that makes it hard for them to quiet their fears and focus on what needs and interests, if met, would make a world of difference. Teachers, after all, get their buttons pushed and skills called into question, not just by one, two, or a few children, but by a room full of them, each additional student multiplying the challenges involved exponentially. While the teacher’s good heart is bravely open to such prodding, professional and economic risks also attend their effort to serve the individual development of each and every child in their care. It’s not easy being answerable to the student, the student’s parents, and the school administration.
10 Ways Mediation Can Help:
Given these dynamics, a neutral, third-party mediator with no investment in the issue at hand can provide valuable assistance in facilitating a conversation about a child’s behavior, development and wellbeing in ten important ways:
- By creating and holding a caring, attentive and inquiring communication space where all feel equally respected, free and encouraged to speak their truth in a confidential setting;
- By facilitating a multi-party communication process aimed at giving each participant deeper satisfaction that he or she really has been heard and understood;
- By identifying and distinguishing between the different positions held by respective participants and the core needs those positions are intended to satisfy;
- By facilitating exploration of each others’ core needs as a means for creating more opportunity for creative solutions that address the diverse range of interests felt among the different participants;
- By identifying and discussing different standards and processes for evaluating the merit of proposed solutions;
- By helping the participants to apply those standards as a means for voluntarily coming to and refining an agreement on a plan for addressing the issues at hand;
- By facilitating the development of a plan for implementing the solutions agreed upon;
- By assisting the participants in formalizing the agreement to the degree desired;
- By fostering an environment in which students, parents and children have the opportunity to heal any wounds that have occurred, apologize for any past wrongs or regrets, and overcome relationship patterns that do not serve a useful purpose;
- And by creating an opportunity for training and practice in more constructive communication patterns that will serve the home and school well when faced with other difficult issues in the future.
Importantly, issues concerning the behavior, development and wellbeing of a child come in all shapes and sizes, some involving only a child and his or her parents, some involving only a child’s parents and a school’s administration, some involving parents of different families, etc. Consider the following list of potential issues that families sometimes find get caught up in unproductive, painful communication patterns. Discussions over:
Grades • Hostile speech to parents • Peer pressure • Individualization to child’s educational needs • Chores • Divorce • Drugs and alcohol • School discipline • Conflict with a teacher • Conflict with administration • Curfew • Driving • Bullying • Social media bullying • Extracurricular obligations • Friends • Jobs • Parental remarriage/parental dating • Moving the family • $1000+ Proms
Mediation is a flexible tool that can be modified and applied in many contexts. Of course, some issues that may come up, such as eating disorders, drug addiction, or depression, are not as much about a failure to communicate about a conflict as they are about deeper mental health issues that require other expertise than a mediator offers. If you have questions about whether mediation might be suitable and helpful in resolving an issue concerning a child’s behavior, development or wellbeing or if you would like to schedule an appointment for mediation, you can call me at (650) 762-TREE [762-8733] or email me using the email form on our Contact Us page.
Hank Edson, J.D. CALL: (650) 762-8733
Proprietor of Family Tree Mediation
Serving Redwood City, Atherton, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Mountain View,
Los Altos and the wider Peninsula & San Francisco Bay Area.