In the fourth grade and my elementary school they offer a program where kids could become conflict managers. I wanted to be a part of this. The goal was to be a peer mediator on the playground. We learned about using “I Messages” to communicate our feelings. For example “I feel angry when you don’t listen to me.”

I was trained as a conflict manager, which (as I said) is l similar to a peer mediator. Our goal as conflict managera during recess was to walk around and look for children that we’re having disagreements  with each other; we would stop them and ask if they needed a conflict manager to help. Most of the time surprisingly they would say yes.

The way we handled these arguments was quite simple. We would ask one person to tell their side of the story and then we would ask them to use an “I message” to communicate to their friend (who they were having a fight with) how they were feeling. The other party was then asked to repeat back (paraphrase) what they heard using the expression “so what I’m hearing you say is ___.” They would put forth their interpretation of what they heard their friend say so that the other person felt validated. Then we would switch sides and listen to the other kid’s perspective. We then used the same technique of paraphrasing the other child’s feelings and staying away from blame.

After hearing both sides of the story the next step was to come to some creative solutions. We would ask the two friends “how can we solve this problem?”

Surprisingly these nine-year-olds were able to come up with intelligent thoughtful solutions to their own problems.

I enjoyed being a conflict manager/peer mediator. I felt like a nine-year-old therapist or counselor helping people solve their own problems. Think about it, that is what a counselor does: they listen to their clients and help guide them toward finding their own solutions.

I believe that my career and mental health activism could be traced back to the fourth grade when I became a conflict manager. This was the first time in my life when I felt like I was making a difference in helping people. And I wanted to keep doing that. Little did I know that 30 years later I would be the CEO of a nonprofit mental health organization called Stigma Fighters.

My son is nine years old now. It makes me think, what is he passionate about? Maybe this is the time to explore that encourage him to follow his dreams. Seems like I thought mine.