Introducing the concepts of conflict resolution and peer mediation

Tucked next door to Sheffield’s iconic Leadmill Club is a small charity with a big heart and an eye to a brighter future. Writes Doctor Hilary Jones.

Wednesday, 5th June 2019, 8:41 am
Updated Thursday, 4th July 2019, 6:17 pm
CRESST - Boys in mediation

For the last 15 years, CRESST has been teaching mediation and conflict resolution skills to children as young as five. The charity has worked with 65 primary schools in Sheffield to help children handle conflict better and receives requests for help from schools further afield.

CRESST believes that conflict is an inevitable part of life – but how it’s managed determines whether a simple difference of opinion escalates to fall-outs, fighting or perhaps even exclusions. And it’s here that CRESST’s training makes a real difference. Youngsters explore what conflict means by comparing the difference between disagreements that don’t matter much - such as different opinions about their favourite colour - to those disagreements that where people get upset.

Children learn that the situations where disagreements cause harm or hurt can be resolved by using mediation skills.

And it turns out that young people learn mediation skills very quickly and use them confidently.

Mediation is process where a neutral third party guides the people in dispute through a structured conversation, listening to both sides of the story and gathering suggestions and ideas for the best way forward. CRESST has tailored a mediation process that’s suitable for use by children of primary school age to address playground conflicts. With a simple acronym, and a script to remind them of the structure of the conversation, the young Peer Mediators quickly grasp the technique.

Children learn listening skills, respect for others’ values and opinions and to keep an open mind when discussing the best ways to solve the problem. When they have completed the training, Peer Mediators sign up to a rota system and volunteer their break times to mediate disputes on that day.

Lunchtime supervisors and teachers refer disputants to the pairs of Mediators, who guide them through the process and encourage them to find a solution together.

Headteachers have welcomed the idea. Rachel Edwards, headteacher at Meersbrook Bank Primary, told us “It teaches the children skills of negotiation, how to deal with conflict, how to be resilient which links in fantastically with our school values.”

Why are young people so good at mediation? At primary age, children are honing their skills at navigating relationships with friends and family.

They draw comfort and security from these relationships and it becomes increasingly important to be liked and accepted by peers. They also have a growing awareness of right and wrong, which often leads to the eruption of arguments between friends.

This makes it the perfect time to introduce the concepts of conflict resolution and peer mediation – young people are curious about conflict and want to learn how to maintain the comfort and security that their friendships bring. Primary-age children genuinely want to help others and are quick to put themselves forward to be Peer Mediators.

When asked about the Peer Mediation scheme in their schools, children said:

“It’s helped us know more people, it’s helped us fall out less. Helped us make more friends and makes us better at listening”.

“A good thing about peer mediation is that you can use it at home as well as school and it’s like a life skill that you can use for the rest of your life. ”

It’s fascinating that at such a young age, the children have grasped the concept of transferable skills – that skills developed for one situation can be applied to others. An understanding of the transferability of skills is key to creative thinking, problem-solving and even future employability.

CRESST’s Director, Carolyn Leary, said: “It’s so inspiring that the children themselves recognise that they’re learning skills for adult life and that will help them feel more confident in their move up to secondary education. Adults are amazed at how skilful these young people become.”

Each year, CRESST honours the hard work of Sheffield’s Peer Mediators by inviting them to their Young Peacemakers’ Conference. Here they mix with children from other schools and attend workshops on conflict-related issues such as prejudice, self-esteem and individuality. The cooperative games sessions emphasise that having a winner and a loser isn’t the only way, and that many situations are solved more successfully when people work cooperatively.

The 2019 conference was opened by the Mayor of Sheffield Magid Magid, who got more than he bargained for when the 134 Peer Mediators gave him a ‘Peace Shower’ – paper snowballs with messages of peace, kindness and wisdom that they had written themselves.

CRESST is planning to expand its Peer Mediation programme across Sheffield and beyond, reaching thousands more young people. Hilary Jones, CRESST’s Communications Manager said: “I’m hopeful about the future, knowing that through CRESST’s work, more and more young people in the UK will be learning these precious life skills. I think our future is in safe hands.”

You can find out more about CRESST’s work by visiting www.cresst.org.uk by following them on Twitter: @_CRESST or on Facebook: @CRESST.sheffield