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Let's settle this like children


You know those people you meet and almost immediately, before you really know them, before you’ve shared anything personal, before you’ve learned what makes them tick, you know with a burning truth in your core that they’re an absolute arsehole? 

Heather isn’t one of those people. Heather’s brilliant. Heather’s not an arsehole.

As she pulled up in her wee red car, unfathomably early in the morning, to pick me up outside my home, I knew straight away we were going to get along. Her exuberant personality was evident as I opened the car door, a beaming smile and a joyous greeting forced me to step out of my early morning crotchetiness despite the cockcrow of first light still ringing in my ears.  Heather greeted me like a childhood friend. I could almost access false memories of parties, shared banter and trips to the pub, such was the wholesome familiarity with which she hailed me into the car. Yet this was only my third time meeting Heather in person, and those other meetings were brief and work related. In-fact, today too was work related. Heather, alongside the no-less-fantastic Kathryn, who sadly couldn’t join our road-trip today, works at Scottish Mediation and one of the many hats she wears is as facilitator of Peer Mediation workshops in Primary Schools across the country. Heather and Kathryn had generously allowed me to observe as they delivered a two-day workshop series, training children in Primary six to become mediators themselves! Squabbles in the playground, fights over football, best friends becoming worst enemies; The children themselves were being handed the skills to support their classmates across the school to manage conflict effectively, without adult involvement! 

As we entered the school Heather seemed surprised at the warm welcome we received. The Head Teacher reflected Heather’s animated attitude as he beckoned us inside. The class teacher, potentially frustrated that we had taken two days away from her carefully crafted curriculum, greeted us with open arms and a surprisingly decent instant coffee. And then we meet the children… Churlish, unenthused, snotty little brats who were glued to their phones, barely grunting out a fatigued “hi” before turning their backs on us in apathetic defiance… Or, more accurately, the kindest, sweetest and excited children you could ever meet. And not only emotionally intelligent, but intellectually ravenous as well. Within seconds of learning about my role as Mediator, I was bombarded with questions about mediation and conflict resolution that resembled PhD thesis titles. Seriously, a ten year old boy asked me “How long is it ok for people to be quiet in a mediation? - Because I think being quiet is good but it can feel weird.” You’re bloody right it can mate! And if you ever get used to it, let me know!

I’ve been delivering Conflict Resolution Workshops for close to a decade and let me be the first to say… These workshops were phenomenal - absolute gold standard. It is rare that you see a youth worker engage with kids in such a non-patronising manner, recognising that the children aren’t a blank canvas, they bring to the training years of skills and knowledge, and we can leverage those strengths. Heather knows this, and loves it too. She routinely makes more space for discussion and the child’s voice, revelling in the experience of a child teaching her something she didn’t know before, or challenging her perspective. She refuses to talk down to them; the skills that the children were being taught, through games, discussion and fun activities, had surprising depth. These workshops are the antithesis of dumbed down oversimplification covering many of the same topics I learned in my MSc: 

  • Confidentiality

  • Co-mediation

  • Conflicts where mediation is and isn’t appropriate

  • Active Listening skills

  • Exploring options

The list goes on…truly, the amount crammed into two days, without feeling overwhelming, was a masterclass. That’s before we even consider the generous time for role-play, discussion and relationship building. Scottish Mediation’s work here is a truly impressive example of taking the core components of mediation and condensing them into an approachable and meaningful package. These workshops are intended for children, but I could see how much the supporting teachers benefitted from the training themselves. They weren’t passive by any means, getting fully involved and clearly challenging their own management of conflict, both within the school walls and at home with their loved ones! It would be almost effortless to tweak these sessions for an adult audience, and even then I think the adults would enjoy some of the games and activities included ostensibly for the kids.

Of course by not dumbing the message down despite the complexity and depth within, you really need someone of Heather’s skill set, and ability to enjoy looking a bit foolish playing games and acting in front of the children, to ensure the messages don’t go over the heads of the intended target audience. When I spoke with Heather about how wonderful the workshops were, and how I felt the possibilities were endless to deliver these sessions across the country, her major concern was revealed. Could Scottish Mediation find enough mediators who would be comfortable with being “silly” in front of children to ensure delivery of the programme in the fun, exciting and engaging way she and her colleague Kathryn had seen so much success with? Having been both a youth worker and a mediator, I gave Heather my unsolicited opinion that they should seek excited, enthusiastic youth workers first, and experienced mediators second. In my experience, it’s much easier to learn mediation skills than to be a great youth worker like Heather and Kathryn. The two combined may well be a rare thing indeed and a not unjustified concern.

Within the class were several children, three or four, that may have been the most assertive, confident and intelligent children I will ever meet. However, my favourite moment of the workshop didn't involve them, surprisingly. It was seeing a wee girl, at least a foot shorter than the other children in the class and quiet as a dormouse, confidently mediating a role-play between two of her classmates. The role of mediator, she told me later, had given her the confidence to speak louder and with more authority than she typically does and she was smiling from ear to ear when I told her that I thought she was a natural. It occurred to me then that even if she never becomes a peer mediator in the school, though I hope she does, these skills that Heather and her colleagues are teaching are true life skills, and there’s not a child in Scotland that wouldn’t benefit.

If you are an educator, teacher or youth worker, please reach out to Heather, Kathryn and the team at Scottish Mediation to access these workshops, and other resources, for your young people - you might just learn a thing or two also!


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