Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation by Dan Simon
Guest blogger, Michelle Zaremba, has been a Transformative Mediator since the beginning of her career in 2000. Since 2009, she has been the Director of the Dayton Mediation Center. She has been central in leading the Center’s expansion by increasing the visibility and utilization of Center programs and services. Michelle has extensive experience in conflict management systems design, organizational/team-building, program development, facilitating, and mediation research. She earned a Master of Public Administration from the Department of Urban Affairs and Geography at Wright State University and a Bachelor of Arts in Applied Conflict Management from Kent State University. She has served on the Board of Directors for the National Association for Community Mediation (NAFCM) and is active with the Ohio Community Mediation Association. Michelle is also a highly decorated Staff Sergeant with the United States Ohio Army National Guard and wrote about her experiences as a female officer in the Iraqi war in Wheels on Fire: My Year of Driving (and surviving) in Iraq, Hellgate Press, 2008.
After picking up my 5-year old son, Caleb, from school last week, we had a very interesting ride home. He had gotten in trouble for not participating in a classroom activity. As I drove, I started to interrogate him on why he didn’t participate. I was upset and concerned that my well-behaved son had gotten in trouble. I kept asking questions and got no response. I looked in the rear view mirror and noticed how upset and closed he had become.
It hit me that I was freaking out and grilling my 5-year old when I should have been tapping into the skills that I’ve used every day at work for the past 15 years. I took a deep breath and slowed down. I was then able to see Caleb differently. He was responding (or not) because he was in a state of disempowerment. He had had a bad day at school, gotten in trouble, was tired and embarrassed. He was not trying to fuel my frustration but was simply unable to respond to my rapid questioning. I tried another technique. I reflected and said, “Caleb, you look so upset.”
This time, instead of asking any questions, I went back to the premises and principals of the Transformative approach. I reflected and chose silence. It felt like an eternity, but he finally responded. Caleb whispered, “I don’t like school.” I controlled my directive mommy impulse to tell him school is wonderful, important, and something he’d better get used to, since kindergarten was just the beginning. Instead I reflected what he said and remained quiet. This time the silence was killing me. I gripped the steering wheel and told myself, “BE PATIENT!” Caleb began to open up and give me specific examples of why he was unhappy at school and what he liked and didn’t like. He started talking about the incident that had gotten him in trouble. The more I reflected, the more he was able to open up. He had a unique perspective on his situation, which I would have never heard if I had continued questioning him. Caleb felt heard. I had created a space for my son to have a voice. We had a beautiful conversation and both Caleb and I shifted to a more empowered state and could work on things he was concerned with at school.
I talk about the Dayton Mediation Center and how proud I am that the staff and volunteers practice what we preach. If there is internal conflict, we mediate those situations. It is so easy to refer other people to our process, but it speaks volumes when we choose to use it for our own conflicts. This experience with Caleb taught me a new lesson.I need to practice what I preach with my children. I need to create the space for my children, even at age 4 and 5, to talk about issues and concerns even in the midst of conflict. I need to remember that my children can be as disempowered as me. I need to be patient and rely on the valuable skills that I use daily at work. This is such an amazing opportunity to teach my children how to articulate what they are experiencing and how to manage conflict in a more productive and constructive manner. Thank you Caleb for teaching me this valuable lesson, always practice what we preach . . . even with 5-year olds!
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