Building bridges with apples, oranges, rhubarb and cheese
When discussing my profession, I’m often met with a comment similar to – ‘Wow, a Mediator! Your household must be very peaceful and harmonious!’ But unfortunately it is often quite the contrary. My personal life is busy, full of the challenges presented by a young, headstrong family. Our two daughters are regularly locked in natural sibling conflict with each other. Some days, purely setting eyes on one another first thing in the morning is enough to provoke shrieks of disapproval. And so I am forever searching for new, child friendly ways to teach them about listening – really listening – about positive communication and finding different ways to resolve their conflicts independently and effectively. Here are a few that I have stumbled upon over the years…
I have recently read about a super activity carried out by a teacher in a school who was encouraging her class to think about how bullying effects other children, and how words can hurt one another deeply inside. She brought two apples into class, one of which she had bruised by bumping it gently on the desk. She showed the class the apples, which looked identical on the exterior. She began to talk to the bruised apple, telling it how much she hated it, how it was a horrid colour, it was a funny shape, and its stem was too short. She told the children she didn’t like that apple and that she didn’t want them to like it either and that they should join in by calling it names. The children reluctantly joined in, passing the apple round, commenting ‘I think you have worms inside’ ‘I don’t know why you exist’. They then passed around the other apple, telling it how lovely and beautiful and perfectly formed it was. The class then compared the apples. From the outside they looked the same. There was no change. But when the teacher cut the apples open the class found that the apple they had been kind to was juicy, fresh and clear inside. The apple that the class had been unkind to was mushy and bruised and brown inside. It is a really effective activity that has since gone viral on the Internet. It provides children with a really powerful visual representation of the power of the spoken word – although our words may not seem to hurt on the surface, they can cause great pain underneath.
Two volunteers are required who are happy to act out their story in role. The participants are given an orange between them. One child is told privately that they want the juice from the orange and the other child is told privately that they want the peel from the orange. They must act out a quarrel in which both children believe that they should have the orange, without divulging why. The audience must then give their input through careful questioning to assist the couple in resolving their dispute – why do you feel that you should have the orange? What do you need it for? until it can be established that both parties can leave with what they wanted. The message of the activity being that through active listening and effective communication we can unearth our true desires and motivations.
A great exercise to focus our minds on how to select and deliver our words in the best way possible. Think about angry words and calm words and experiment with how they are spoken – for example, CACTUS is a sharp, snappy word… how can you make it sound calming? RHUBARB rolls off the tongue, how can you make it sound angry? How about phrases – ‘the words shot from her mouth like bullets from a machine gun’ or ‘ the words rolled from her tongue like waves lapping at the beach’, what do those phrases look like in your mind? How do you feel when you are spoken to in the ways that are described?
Finally an activity to highlight how we can all view the same object or issue very differently, without our individual views being wrong. Using a piece of triangular cheese, discuss how it looks different depending on which way you are viewing it – triangular from above, rectangular from the end etc.
Whilst I have highlighted these activities to help children to learn about mediation, about conflict resolution, and the power of the spoken word, they are also fun, engaging and though provoking exercises to carry out with adults!