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Law Rules

How we resolve our disputes

Entries in children (2)


Back to School

It is the end of August, the “back to school” time of year. Yesterday on the radio, I heard a discussion of what parents need to do to prepare their children for the new school year. The participants began talking about the usual books, pens, paper and other supplies, technology, clothing, etc. Fortunately, before I tuned out, they turned to the more important question of how you prepare children mentally. How do you put them in the right frame of mind to learn both the substance of what is being taught as well as how to interact with teachers and other students? It was good to hear a discussion that encouraged parents to get involved with their children’s education. Too many parents these days use the schools merely as babysitters, to take care of their children while the parents are at work. Education should continue at home, not just in the classroom.

The discussion soon focused on problems that arise at school that can turn children off to education, like bad teachers and bullies. What is a parent to do? How involved do they need to be? What lesson should parents give children to prepare them for obstacles at school? The answer was a pleasant surprise to me. In an age where some parents are too uninvolved and others are over-involved (so-called “helicopter parents” who hover over their children), I expected to hear something about finding the middle ground or happy medium. Instead, what I heard was elegantly simple: “Work it out!” The participants in this discussion did not urge parents to monitor every problem, call school to complain about bad teachers or bullies, or help their children out of every difficulty. Rather, they urged parents to tell their children that problems and conflicts will occur, and children must be prepared to work it out and resolve the problems themselves. Of course, this requires children to know how to stand up for themselves and be their own advocates, without resorting to violence. This is something both teachers and parents should help children do. It is a skill that will help them throughout their lives. Sometimes, they will be able to do it themselves and other times they will not. But if they try, they will at least learn when they need to seek help and who to seek it from.

This discussion should be required material in business schools. I have seen people turn their business problems over to lawyers and tell them to “handle it,” when the parties themselves could have worked it out more efficiently if they knew how to communicate and advocate for themselves effectively. Fortunately, many attorneys are skilled negotiators and advocates in and out of the courtroom. But it certainly makes the attorney’s job easier if the client is also involved in and adept at the process. That is a skill that can and should be learned in school. When parties in dispute cannot get the other side’s attention or have trouble focusing on the issues, that is when attorneys or mediators need to be called in. And then it is time for everyone to go back to school and find a way to work it out.


Dare to cross the line

Inspiration comes to me from many sources.  Last weekend, it came to me from a comic strip.  In Baldo (the first comic strip featuring Latino characters and themes), a little girl on a playground dares a bigger girl to cross a line she has drawn in the sand.  The two girls stare at each other as other children gather round.  Finally, the bigger girl crosses the line and the little girl says “Good. Now you’re on my side.”  In the final panel, the two girls hug and smile.  

This inspired me to think of how many times I have seen people in dispute draw lines in the sand that they dare not cross.  Once their positions are fixed, it is difficult to get disputing parties to move.  The cartoonist was able to illustrate how the line might not be a barrier.  Rather, it might be an invitation to explore opportunity. 

Another mediator blogger recently pointed out that 4 year olds can be taught to “do conflict resolution.”  Perhaps we have found a way to make childishness a good thing.  When adults draw lines in the sand, it might be better if they think like 4 year olds or the children in the comic strip. I am going to keep copies of this comic and blog in my mediation binder.  I’ll report to you as soon as I have an opportunity to use them.