Not many parenting experts pass my litmus test for a true parenting expert. I frequently watch the morning shows and read women’s magazines to see what secular parenting experts are telling people to do. Often, the secular advice is the same advice a Christian parenting expert would give. Other times, I find myself rolling my eyes at their “expert” advice. (Don’t get me wrong. Not all Christian parenting experts are wise either!)
So what parenting topic helps me separate valuable resources for you from not so valuable? It’s how they suggest you should handle things when your kids start fighting with their friends or each other. If an “expert” counsels you to “let them work it out for themselves”, I know he/she hasn’t done his/her homework in parenting.
Why? Because that is absolutely some of the worst parenting advice you will ever hear. Think about it. Your beautiful, wonderful, normally perfect four year old son and six year old daughter are having a major disagreement. Left to their own devices, they will indeed “work it out”. Unfortunately, their ideas for resolving conflict often involve hitting, pinching, screaming, name calling and other not so wonderful tactics.
This is why we have so many issues in our society with conflicts rising to the level of violence, road rage, verbal melt downs, screaming, cursing and more. No one ever taught any of us how to resolve conflict in godly ways. They let us “figure it out for ourselves” as little kids and we still act like those little kids when there is any kind of conflict.
So what do you need to do the next time your kids start fighting?
- Give your kids time alone to calm down. If you are in a place with little space, just put as much distance between them as possible.
- Have each child think about how they feel and why they feel that way. When you first start practicing this step, your kids may not understand how to process and verbalize their feelings. Asking a few open ended questions like, “Why do you think you got so angry when your sister accidentally touched you?”, can help them learn how to do it.
- Teach your kids to calmly tell each other how they feel, using the following sentences. “I feel ______ when you ______, because _________. I would like _________. Watch this step carefully. This can go downhill fast if you don’t make them follow the script. It’s also important to note that “when you act like a jerk” is not an appropriate response for the second blank!
- Do not let your kids use ugly words when talking to each other. This includes name calling, cursing and screaming.
- Have each child repeat what the other child wants and needs in their own words.
- Let each child tell their wants and needs again if they believe they were not restated correctly.
- Have your kids list as many possible solutions to the problem as possible. This is so very important. Most of us think there are only two solutions to any disagreement – my way or your way. Studies have shown in almost every situation there is at least a third option which can often give both parties more of what they want than the all or nothing approach.
- Help your kids pick the solution that will help everyone get what they need. Notice the word is need, not want. Sometimes the godly thing to do is to give up something we want for someone who actually needs it.
Teaching your kids these steps is not particularly difficult. Taking the time every time they argue to help them through these steps will be time-consuming and frustrating. It is absolutely worth it though. Not only will this improve every relationship they will ever have, but it is an important Christian life skill building block as well. It is most definitely worth your time and effort!
P.S. You can find a printable copy of these steps for godly conflict resolution on our website.