Two Big Turtles and Mediation Insights from a Three-Year-Old

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, my sister brought her family to visit. Despite living on opposite sides of the country, my 3-year-old daughter and my 3-year-old niece are very close — almost as close as sisters. Like sisters, they fight over things and have difficulty sharing. One evening, just before Thanksgiving, they were fighting over a bath toy. The toy was a mommy turtle with a baby turtle that attached to the back of the mommy turtle’s shell with a suction cup. When we heard the shrieking, my sister intervened and sat down with both girls to figure out what was going on. My sister, who is an incredibly patient and gifted elementary school teacher, listened intently as each child had an opportunity to tell her side of the story. 

My sister identified the problem: “So you both wanted to hold the big turtle?” 

Two little heads promptly nodded in agreement and two little bodies visibly relaxed when they realized that someone else understood their plight. When my sister invited them to brainstorm potential solutions to this problem, my daughter excitedly suggested, “we could get two big turtles!” 

Long after I stopped chuckling about my daughter’s idea, I continued to think about the interaction. Of course, my sister and I were thinking that a logical solution was to take turns holding the big turtle. However, by giving my daughter and my niece the autonomy to generate their own solutions, they came up with options that we might not think of, and that would work better for them.

That is the jewel of mediation, which holds autonomy and self-determination in such high esteem. Mediation is an opportunity to restore agency to the parties in conflict. It empowers the parties, who know themselves and their business better than anyone else, to craft a resolution that will actually work for them when applied to real life.

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