I love the sounds when the weather turns warm -- the sounds of children playing outside. Usually my yard is filled with the sounds of my girls and the two neighbor laughing and talking. But I've noticed every year at the beginning of spring, I hear a lot of another sound as well -- arguing.
After spending the winter indoors and not playing together as much, each spring the girls have to re-learn how to deal with disagreements and misunderstandings. Yesterday was one of the first really nice days we had. I was working inside while the girls were playing. All of a sudden I heard my youngest yell something and stomp up the steps. When she came to the door, I was waiting for her. We had a short talk about the tone of voice in which we talk to our friends, and then I marched her back outside to apologize to her friends and her sister.
A short time later, my older daughter came in crying because one of the girls had accidentally hit her with a stick. We cleaned up the injury, and she went back outside. As she went out, she said to me "I don't want to play that game any more." (I thought that was a pretty good idea since I'm never in favor of games that include whacking each other with sticks.) Unfortunately one of the other girls didn't hear the whole statement and thought she said "I don't want to play with her anymore." So, not five minutes later, three of the girls were back in my house needing me to help sort out the issue.
As much as the interruptions were frustrating for me and as tempting as it was to say "Why don't you all play by yourselves," these moments are opportunities for me to teach my kids how to appropriately deal with conflict. If they can learn to deal with their disagreements with others at this age, their lives will be so much easier as they get older. When your children have disagreements with friends or siblings, take the time to teach them appropriate ways to untangle their disagreements and misunderstandings.
- Remind your children that the only thing they can control in a disagreement is their own reactions. They can control the tone of their voices, what they say in response to another person and their actions. Share with them that Proverbs 15:1 says "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." Help your kids understand that when we yell at someone or say not nice things to them, it doesn't make them want to do anything that we ask.
- Even in the midst of disagreement, we should put others first. Luke 6:31 tells us "Do to others as you would have them do to you." Even when we are upset, we need to treat others as we would want to be treated. When you see behavior from your child toward another child that is inappropriate, ask your child how it would make them feel if the other child had done that thing to him.
- Give your child tools to handle conflict. Encourage them not to use "always" and "never" statements. When we use those words in a statement, it's rarely ever true. No one always or never does something all the time. Instead, equip your kids with "I feel" statements. Encourage them to say things like "When you do that, I feel ..." This is less accusatory of the other person, but still allows your child to deal with whatever issue is the problem.
- Don't let disagreements fester. I have girls, and little girls have a tendency to hold a grudge. They can go for days without speaking to one another over something silly. When we let anger and disagreements fester, they only get worse. That's why Ephesians 4:26-27 says "In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold." It's not unusual for our doorbell to ring after the girls have had a disagreement with the neighbor girls, and we'll find the neighbor's on our doorstep ready to apologize. The same is true for my girls. We encourage them to go right the wrong right away rather than letting it sit until the next day.
- Don't hesitate to get involved to help your children solve their conflict. Modeling appropriate conflict resolution is the best way for your kids to learn it. Be gentle and bring some humor in to diffuse the situation when possible.
As the spring turns to summer, I hope that my kids will begin to use their conflict resolution skills and I'll have to be involved less often. But until then, we need to be ready to step in and teach, even when our kids' conflicts interrupt our tasks because this is a skill that can only be taught.