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<xTITLE>Mediative Solutions For Parents And Children At Impasse</xTITLE>

Mediative Solutions For Parents And Children At Impasse

by Matt Kramer

Reprinted by permission from Solo - A Guide for the Single Parent July,1996.

Matt Kramer
Pouting and crying, tantrums and yelling, stealing and running away. It seems as if there are an infinite number of ways in which children can express their displeasure to us. Exactly what displeases them or what we as single parents can do about it is seldom clear amidst the decision making, catching up and scheduling that we struggle through in our day to day lives.

Mediation is a very effective tool in parent/child communication. A mediator is a neutral facilitator, trained in communication and problem solving skills to help people in conflict work out mutually agreeable solutions. The mediator works as an advocate for all parties in the dispute, helping them to feel validated for their own points of view while assisting them to find validity in other points of view. In light of the conflicts you may experience with your children, this may seem like an impossible task. But remember, as in the Middle East peace agreements, all mediations begin in impasse.

One of my first parent/child mediations involved a single mother whose preteen son had rung up a multi-thousand dollar phone bill. The story revealed in the mediation was that the boy's girlfriend had moved to another city. Her parents forbade her to see or talk to her boyfriend, so she called him collect whenever she could. The boy's mother was upset over communication and obedience issues and had been referring to her son's relationship and the loss of his girlfriend with patronizing and sarcastic remarks.

I asked the mother, "If your son cannot find respect from you for his feelings, can you see why he might turn to his girlfriend, the person who does not mock him, but listens to him and who makes him feel respected?" On the son's behalf, I learned that he was upset that his mother wouldn't collude with him to let him see his girlfriend. In his mind, her denial of his emotional needs justified his abuse of the telephone. I pointed out that if his mother, an adult, was associated with his girlfriend behaving counter to her parents' orders, she could wind up in serious legal trouble. In the course of the mediation, mother and son obtained deeper understanding about the effects of their behavior upon each other and the resulting consequences. They also worked out agreements to identify and collaborate on goals and needs, and learned tools and skills for effective communication.

As an adult human being, I can remember some of the feelings I felt as a child; feelings of helplessness, aloneness and powerlessness against the wishes and restrictions of my mother and stepfather. I don't remember being asked about my opinions or feelings. I don't blame my parents for these things, I know that they didn't treat me differently than they themselves were treated as children.

Now, as I raise my son, I can see that his life is greatly impacted by issues greater than a child should have to handle. Both of his parents are single, both of them are engaged in struggles of their own. As an ADHD child, he copes the best he can and some of that coping includes behavior that gets him in a lot of trouble.

In communicating with my son, I have found listening to be my most effective communication tool. In my work as a mediator, I have realized amazing results by employing true listening skills. When I conduct parent-child mediations, I find the children to be very cooperative and willing to abide by the rules of the mediation process. One reason is that for many children, it is the first time that they are allowed to express themselves without being censored by a parent. A common litany for children is, "Be quiet and listen." While they often hear the command, 'Listen," they often don't get to experience what it feels like to be listened to. If you don't have the experience of being heard, how will you know how to make someone else feel heard?


Matt Kramer mediates divorce and custody issues, parent/child conflicts and other kinds of relationship challenges, including marital, pre-marital and estate disputes. A resident of the Bay area since 1998, he now works and resides in Cotati, about an hour north of San Francisco. The author of "Conversations Before a Marriage," Kramer is also available for speaking engagements, workshops and seminars.

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