Handling Sibling Conflict

Handling Sibling Conflict - Parenting Like HannahSibling conflict is a constant issue in many homes. Let’s face it. Living with anyone can get on your nerves at times. Make the people living together young people whose brains aren’t fully developed, who are still being taught how to treat others in godly ways and who may have to share a room, bathroom or other close quarters, and well….you probably already know what happens.

What never ceases to amaze me are the “parenting experts” who continue to advise parents to let kids in conflict “work it out for themselves”. So how do young children resolve conflict “naturally”. I’m sure you remember from your own childhood attempts plenty of screaming, name calling and probably a good punch or two. Not exactly godly conflict resolution skills! (Not to mention, that is most likely why we have a world full of people who act like four year olds when they are in conflict with someone!)

Godly conflict management skills have to be taught and practiced. You as the parent, will have to do the teaching. I am sure your kids will make sure they get a lot of practice! So how do you teach your kids these skills, when you may struggle with conflict resolution yourself? I am sure if you research, you can find a variety of techniques. Most though seem to flow through a process like this:

  • 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 calming down children in full meltdown, 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 or insults, 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.

It may seem like a lot of work…and it will be at first. Think of the first couple of steps as a nice non-punishment time out for everyone to cool down a bit. The other steps obviously take some time and the situation may not always allow you to work through them all. Try tabling disagreements until later that day and work through the remaining steps. Don’t delay too long if both parties are still seething in anger…they need to learn to resolve conflict as quickly as possible. If you wait too long when they remain angry, they will quickly find other things to add to the original list of complaints.

If you run through this process slowly with your kids several times, then when conflict arises you can remind them “Did you…”. After awhile they should be expected to go through the process without reminders of how to resolve it.  Even with practice though, expect your kids to need a Mom mediator from time to time…and that’s okay.

If you train your kids to resolve conflict in godly ways and there are still a lot of angry outbursts, you may be dealing with one or more children who have an issue with an angry heart. In my next post, I will give you some suggestions for working with an angry child. In the meantime, start teaching your kids how to resolve conflict in godly ways. It will not only make your household calmer, but also your children will be better prepared to handle all of the conflict that comes with adulthood!

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Thereasa Winnett

Thereasa Winnett is the founder of Teach One Reach One and blogger at Parenting Like Hannah. She holds a BA in education from the College of William and Mary. She has served in all areas of ministry to children and teens for more than thirty years and regularly leads workshops for ministries and churches. She has conducted numerous workshops, including sessions at Points of Light’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service, the National Urban Ministry Conference, Pepperdine Bible Lectures, and Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration. Thereasa lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband Greg, where she enjoys reading, knitting, traveling and cooking.

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