Kids and Conflict Resolution

“Mom! He hit me.”

Last summer this, (or some variation of He/She did this to me) was the most used phrase in our home. The tattling was constant, and the denial of the incident by the accused party nearly so. Something had to change, and I had a plan.  

Our kids needed to learn conflict resolution. But how, when their mother was allergic to conflict? I don’t enjoy conflict. At all. The few times I have faced conflict, I have done so by asking the age-old question: What Would Jesus Do?

The good news is Jesus is very clear on how to resolve conflict. 

In chapter 19 of Matthew (verses 15-17) Jesus says this:

 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

To sum it up in Mom speak: if you are having a problem, you talk to the person you are having the problem with about it. If that doesn’t work, you take a trusted friend to talk to them. If that doesn’t work, you bring it in front of the whole church, or community; in our context, the family.

So we talked to the kids. We shared with them this passage of scripture and explained that this was our new tactic for resolving conflict with each other. We all agreed to give it a go, and then we waited for someone to hit someone or call someone “a jerk” or whatever the super mean name was at the moment.  

The first time one of these events took place, the kid, of course, came to me whining about the incident. I reminded them of our new course of action with my new favorite phrase: “Sounds like you are having a problem with your brother/sister. You should go talk to him/her about it.” 

And it worked. The kid turned around and went to talk to their sibling. I am very sure at this point I literally patted myself on the back. I was sure I had just revolutionized parenting. And then I heard the cry from the basement: “FAMILY MEETING.”

On the first day of Jesus-led conflict resolution, we had 15 family meetings. Apparently explaining to kids to resolve their own conflicts isn’t enough to get them to resolve their own conflicts.  It took time and practice, not just the first step, but all three.

Here we are 8 months later, and there is a lot less tattling at our house. Our kids have embraced talking to each other about the problems that are between them. Not only that, but they have gotten good at acknowledging when they hurt other people and making amends by apologizing or getting them an ice pack.

Three notes on teaching kids conflict resolution:

  1. This year one kid had a conflict with a friend at school. The kid came home and shared the mean things the other kid had said to them. It was mean. I wanted to jump in and call the school or the other kid’s parents or something. After discussing the options, the kid decided to take care of it. The next day at school the kid confronted the friend and told them it was not ok what they said. And guess what? The friend apologized, and is now not only a friend but is regularly referred to as the best friend.  Our new endevor had translated outside of our home and into the general population – and it worked there too!
  2. In this scenario, it is important to remember that we have 4 kids. If you have one or two kids, this conflict resolution set-up breaks down because you don’t have a “trusted friend” in step 2. I like it when they are having a conflict and they come through the house looking for another sibling and once they find him/her they will say (in a sweet voice) “Hello trusted friend!” Everyone knows this means there is a conflict in progress and it’s not going well.  
  3. We have had a new problem with our conflict resolution in the last couple of months. There have been more and more family meetings, but when the “community” comes together, we find that the kid who created the conflict has already apologized. The other kid had just decided it “wasn’t very sincere.” This led to another conversation about how we don’t get to decide what is in someone else’s heart. That is a blog post for another day.  

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