It happened again today. An article in a popular women’s magazine was counseling parents about how to manage sibling conflict. What was the number one suggestion? Let them figure it out on their own without intervening. Are you kidding me?!
It never ceases to amaze me the same people who have us baby proofing everything within five miles of our kids and spending hours with them driving in circles around a parking lot, also tell us to allow children to teach themselves conflict resolution. No wonder our world is filled with people who yell, scream and hit when they are angry. They are using the same conflict resolution skills they “figured out for themselves” at age four or five!
Suddenly when people join the business world or marry as adults, they are expected to have the conflict resolution skills of a top attorney. If they are Christian, people expect them to resolve conflict with the same skills Jesus possessed. Adults who were told to figure things out on their own for the previous couple of decades and now have to learn actual conflict management skills have made a lot of people who write books and conduct seminars very wealthy.
Please don’t put your children in a position to ruin relationships, careers and even tear apart churches because you never taught them how to resolve conflict in godly ways. Teach them how God wants us to resolve conflict. If you struggle with handling conflict yourself, here are some basic tips to begin teaching your kids whenever a conflict arises:
- Give your children time alone to calm down and gain control of their emotions. Don’t wait for conflict to escalate before trying to calm your child or children down. It is much more difficult than training them that the minute they begin feeling anger they need to step aside for a moment and breathe until they calm down enough to have a rational discussion.
- Ask your children to think about how they feel and what they actually want out of the situation. Often the things being screamed about are not what is the root cause of the disagreement. Encourage your children to dig deep and think about the situation. Are they really upset their sister went in their room or that she is not respecting them and honoring previous agreements?
- Teach your kids to calmly state their position using the following sentences: “I feel _______ when you _______ because _________. I would like ___________.
- Do not allow your children to use ugly words when talking to each other. Ever. This means no name calling, no curse words, no “I hate you”, no slams, etc. The minute ugly talk begins, tell your kids it is not allowed in your home and they need to go back to step one and begin again. (I hope it goes without saying that physical acts like hitting, damaging property, etc. are not tolerated.)
- Have each child restate what the other needs and wants in their own words. This will help clarify that they are accurately understanding each other. Sometimes when people are upset things don’t come out as clearly as they would like because emotions are taking over the brain. Hearing it restated can help both parties gain some clarity.
- Let each child restate their needs and wants if they believe they were not understood properly by the other child. This step may require the most patience from everyone involved. Children are not experts at language and often have a tough time expressing themselves well. As an adult, you may have to suggest words to help both children better understand what was meant.
- Have your kids list as many solutions as possible to the problem. Often the problem in conflicts is that everyone assumes there are only two options. Many times there are numerous other options which are much better than the original two. Encourage creativity. Allowing a little silliness in this step will also help soften any leftover anger as they have fun creating the list together.
- Help your kids examine the list and pick the solution that is the best for everyone. Sometimes everyone will end up happy and sometimes compromises may be involved. It is important for your kids to begin learning they can’t always get their way.
These tips not only work for sibling conflicts, but also conflicts between parents and kids and friends or others outside of your family. Helping your children learn to resolve conflict in godly ways will improve not only their lives, but the lives of those around them. Give your kids the gift of knowing how to resolve conflicts well at a young age. It will make a huge difference in their lives. (P.S. Keep checking under our new resource tab “Printable Parenting Resources” for a free printable tips list based on this article. Feel free to print them and share with other parents you know. We hope to have it online in the next few weeks.)