I stood in my kitchen and listened to the rising voices, waiting for the moment I needed to step in. Even though the kids were on the driveway, I could tell they were headed for disaster. Someone was going to get mad enough to stomp off or say something they didn't mean.
If you have more than one child or if your child has friends that come over frequently, you've witnessed this scenario. What does a mom do when our kids' conflicts outstrip their abilities to deal with them?
There's a popular school of thought that says we should just let our kids fight it out amongst themselves. They will eventually figure it out. I've tried this method, and all it usually results in is two crying children.
Our kids can't "fight it out" because they don't have the tools to resolve the conflict. It's like sticking someone in the kitchen who has never seen a stove and telling them to bake a cake. They might figure it out, but they will probably burn a finger first. Ephesians 6:4 says "do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." We have to offer the training and instruction.
When our kids are having a conflict with another child, it's our job to teach them how to solve the conflict. We're not supposed to throw them in the pool, expecting them to swim without teaching them first. Teaching our kids to solve conflict means we have to be aware that there's conflict going on. It means keeping an ear on your kids wherever they are. If my kids are outside, there's usually a door or window open so I can hear them. Most of the time they have no idea I'm listening, but I know when voices start to rise, it's time to step outside to see what's going on.
Here's how we handle conflict in our house:
- Be aware of what's going on. If there's more than one child in my house, I make sure I know where they are and what they are doing. If my kids are in one of their rooms, I'll occasionally poke my head in the room to see what's going on. If they're outside, I listen for them or keep the door to the garage open so I can see them.
- When tempers begin to rise, don't hesitate to step in. It's easier to teach your kids to solve a conflict if everyone in the situation isn't full of emotion. Step in before they're yelling at each other. The teachable moment is harder to grab if everyone (including you) is already upset.
- Offer options for solving the problem. Don't just step in and issue an edict. Explain the problem-solving steps to the kids and let them choose the solution. Guide them to a compromise but don't create the compromise for them. This teaches them how to solve the problem the next time. If we constantly solve their conflicts for them, they'll never learn to solve them on their own.
- If the conflict reached the anger stage before you stepped in, require the kids to apologize to each other. Talk about what steps they could have taken to have avoided reaching that point.
This method of conflict resolution takes more time and energy on your part than letting them fight it out or solving the problem for your kids, but it offers them important training for the future, and it teaches them how to resolve conflict while still respecting each other.