Sometimes there can be too much of a good thing. And, I’ve been thinking that having more than six posts on “Resolving Conflict” might be a bit much. There are so many aspects of biblical conflict resolution that we could discuss, but for the time being I am ready to delve into another topic. So, if you are interested in further study on resolving conflict biblically, I highly recommend that you visit http://www.peacemaker.net to find some great resources.
In the meantime, I will wrap up this series by sharing with you a handful of helpful “tools” or “lessons” that I regularly teach my children (and remind myself of) to prevent and resolve conflict. I have condensed them into “sayings” and Bible verses that my children hear me use when confict is brewing (or exploding!). The following are my top eight. If you choose to incorporate any of them into your parenting, then just focus on one new “tool” per week as you teach your children to be peacemakers. I hope you also will find these personally helpful within your own family and other relationships. (Several of these principles are further explained in The Young Peacemaker by Sande.)
1. “Overlook, talk it out, get help.”
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). If one of my kids is “offended” or hurt by another, I hold up three fingers and tell my kids that they have three options: overlook the offense (without holding a grudge), tell the other child that what happened was wrong (ungodly) and ask that they not do it again. If those two things are done but the conflict is still not resolved, THEN the offended child can come to me for help. This teaches my childrens: 1) to be gracious, 2) to take personal responsibility in resolving conflict, and 3) not to gossip (tattle) on others.
“Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). When my children have sinful actions, attitudes, or words, I often probe them to identify what is in their heart that is prompting their behavior. I also teach them to use biblical terminology for the heart condition. I firmly believe that unless a “condition” is properly labelled, it will most likely not be properly treated. For example, if one of my children hits the other, I do not accept his justification that “Sister took my candy.” Neither do I assign my own diagnosis, “Oh, he’s just tired.” Maybe sister took his candy and maybe he is tired, but that does not explain the heart condition from which his hitting sprang forth! Instead, the biblical terminology would describe his actions as rude, angry, selfish, impatient, etc. Only once the true “cause” is identified can I guide my child on the path of true repentance.
“A man will reap exactly what he sows” (Galatians 6:7). My kids know what it means when they see my two thumbs up and then immediately my two thumbs down. Without me uttering a word, they know I am saying, “If you will make a good decision right now, good consequences will follow. But, if you continue to make the bad decision you are currently making, you will have bad consequences.” They also know I mean it; mommy means what she says. If you want your kids to learn that choices have consequences, don’t just do the “thumb thing.” Make sure you follow through.
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor” (Romans 12:10). “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind consider one another more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Selfishness. It is rooted deep in every heart. When my children are insisting on their own way at the expense of another, I will often say, “Give preference to one another with honor,” or “Consider one another more important than yourselves.” In order for the meaning of these commands to carry their full weight with my children, I have previously spent time thoroughly discussing these Scripture passages (Romans 12 and Philippians 2) with them. Teach your children (from Scripture and in their circumstances) to deny themselves and to do what is best for others.
“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification, according to the need of the moment that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). Complaining, arguing, whining, bossing–and all before 9:15 a.m.! Some days are worse than others, but even on the “best days” children’s mouths (and our own) can cause a heap of trouble. We have a quick litmus test in our home for determining if something is worth saying. I often ask, “Is it true, kind, or necessary?” Yes, it may be true that sister’s haircut is not the most flattering, but is it really kind to tell her that? Yes, it may be kind to mom, who is resting, to tell brother that she said the both of you could watch another DVD, but is it true? Yes, I know you are “rather verbal,” but is it really necessary for you to talk non-stop all the way to art lesson and all the way back? “He who guards his mouth keeps himself from calamity” (Proverbs 21:23). Teach your children to evaluate and measure their words when they are young.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). When my children have done something sinful toward another and they have shown they understand and are sorrowful for their fault, I have them humbly seek forgiveness from the person(s) they have offended and confess their sin to the Lord. Their apologies are to be specific, admitting the specific sinful behavior and heart attitude: “I am sorry for ________. Will you please forgive me?” (I don’t allow a scowling, under-the-breath, arms-crossed, “Sorry.”) When confessing their sin to the Lord, I also teach them to ask for His grace and strength to do what is right in the situation. Learning to graciously grant forgiveness to the offender is also important. I remind my children of the forgiveness we have received from God through Christ. The parable of the “Unjust Servant” in Matthew 18:21-35 is a great word picture for this! There is so much to be said about forgiveness–this short paragraph here cannot do the subject justice. (Maybe “forgiveness” will be a future blog series?)
“Honor your father and mother so (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth” (Ephesians 6:3). This tool works well with children who have already consistently shown they are submissive to parental authority. The wise appeal is a privilege that can be used by children (usually older) who have proven themselves to be generally faithful in obeying their parents right away, all the way, and with a right attitude. If you give such children a command or instruction that they do not want to follow, instead of complaining, whining, or stomping out of the room, they may say, “Mom, may I make a wise appeal?” Sometimes, because of the circumstances, you will say “no.” But, there may be times who you allow a wise appeal. The wise appeal sounds like this: “Mom, I know you want me to _________ because __________. Instead, I would prefer to _________ because _________. Would it be alright if _______________? (This last blank must include a solution to the parent’s original concern.) So, for example, “Mom, I know you want me to empty the trash right now because it stinks and you want it out of the house before company arrives. Instead, I would prefer to finish my Wii baseball game because there is only one half inning left. Would it be alright if I empty the trash as soon as the game is over since company won’t arrive for another half hour?” Giving older kids this self-controlled and honorable way to discuss your instructions and their obedience helps to prevent conflict and gives them an excellent opportunity to develop communication skills when appealing to an authority.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. . . You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself. . . ” (Matthew 22:37-40). Quite frankly, as a mother, sometimes there is just too much to think about. All that we juggle in a day can be absolutely overwhelming. We can’t remember where we put the keys, checkbook, or the brand new toothbrushes, let alone all of the Bible verses that address the issues that each of our children face. When all is said and done, the instruction we give our children should boil down to what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments–to love God and to love one’s neighbor. So, it is not uncommon for me to ask a child causing or responding to conflict, “Is what you are doing or saying loving God? Is what you are doing or saying loving your neighbor?” These questions quickly cut through the blameshifting, denial, and justifications that children (and we) use to deflect fault and responsibility in a conflict. Loving God and loving those made in His image is God’s desire and design for us. We were all made for the purpose to glorify–and love–God in all that we do and say. Teach your children this overarching truth for life, and you will have taught them well.
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