Pulling out your hair over all the fighting? You might be doing it all wrong. Check out these tips for Conflict Resolution for kids.
When it comes to conflict resolution for kids, one of the first images that pops into my head is a referee blowing a whistle. From little league soccer games where kids couldn’t care less but parents yell at referees anyway to World Cup games where grown men bite each other or flop over on the ground to get penalties, the referee has a crazy and sometimes frustrating job.
Maybe like me, you start to empathize with the referee when you’re in the middle of breaking up fights and dishing out penalties at home. It can seem very attractive to be able to deal with conflicts by blowing whistles and “banning” people (haha!). But a referee can only resolve so much conflict. A red card can shut up a player or a parent and even ban them from the league, but it can’t bring what we truly want—peace.
Though it is exhausting and discouraging, the fact that conflict surrounds us almost constantly is not surprising. God has created our kids as unique people with different priorities, likes, and dislikes! They’re bound to get in the way of each other as they pursue what’s important to them. But here’s the shocker—conflict isn’t the problem. Nope, it’s not the conflict causing the endless sibling fighting or the tense atmosphere in our homes. It’s their responses to the conflict. And THAT is something our kids can absolutely have control over!
Table of Contents
5 Ineffective Ways To Handle Conflict Resolution for Kids
Picture it with me. You’re
having a bubble bath and eating bonbons cooking dinner and loading the dishwasher peacefully when war breaks out.
Emily was carefully collecting materials so she could do an art project at the table. Scott saw her, which reminded him that he also wanted to do an art project. So he gathered his things quicker and raced to the table, consuming the space Emily needed.
When Emily gets to the table and finds Scott already there, she begins to throw his stuff on the floor. “You knew I was going to sit here. How could you?” she screams frantically.
Sounds familiar, right? Just insert different names and circumstances, and you’ve got a glimpse into every Christian home. Yep, I said “Christian.” Sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking that Christians would never have conflict. Ha. Everyone has conflict. The difference is in the resolution.
So how can you master conflict resolution with your kids? Let’s look at some ways we might be doing it all wrong!
1. Escape the Conflict
If we are being honest, this is typically our first response as parents. We walk in on an Emily and Scott situation and tell everyone to go to their room. That will solve the conflict, right?
Wrong. Sometimes our desire for peace can make us forget what true peace looks like. If we ONLY separate the kids fighting or ONLY forbid them to speak, we may actually be trying to escape the conflict rather than resolving it. Does silence = peace? I would say no. Like a fire that burns whether we’re next to it or run away from it, angry and hateful hearts, grudges, and bitterness can all still exist even when our homes are quiet and our kids are separated into their own rooms.
Though this response might start with how we, as parents, deal with our kids’ conflicts, they will quickly learn this escape response too. Refusing to speak to someone or secluding themselves in their rooms may be signs that your kids have learned the “escape” response. But this will not lead to conflict resolution—in fact, like ignoring a fire, it will undoubtedly make it worse.
Make it right—> Is there ever a time to escape a conflict? Yes! Teach your kids to recognize when it’s the right thing to do. For example, if your life is in danger (or you might be physically hurt), ESCAPE quickly! Another reason to escape could be for kids who need a minute to cool down. Just remember not to leave it there! Once emotions are under control, the conflict needs to be resolved.
2. Avoid the Conflict
Let’s say Emily sees what Scott did and just goes back to her room. We might initially praise her, but that’s because we don’t see that she went to her room to pout for the rest of the day, collecting yet another tally on her list of wrongs against Scott. This behavior is toxic and will only increase sibling rivalry, causing a bitter root that will one day rear its ugly head.
Does this sound like one of your kids? Maybe you have a child who hates conflict and would rather ignore a hurt or offense in an effort to avoid conflict and make “peace.” But avoiding the person or even a conversation about the offense doesn’t bring true peace either! It only prolongs a conflict without resolving it and laying it to rest. Though they might mentally dismiss it or say, “It doesn’t matter,” they aren’t actually dealing with conflict. They are only avoiding what will inevitably come up again and probably in a worse way next time.
We, as parents, avoid conflict by ignoring it or refusing to deal with the situation.
Make it right—> Should kids ever walk away from a problem? YES! In fact, the Bible is super clear that we should be overlooking the offenses of others. Proverbs 19:11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” Just remember that “overlook” means to forgive. When we avoid, we often hold the offense against the person privately, not overlooking and forgiving.
3. Lashing Out and Attacking to Resolve Conflict
It’s pretty obvious that attacking isn’t a good response to conflict. (This includes us, parents!) Though angry outbursts where we yell at people, call them names, or physically attack them can feel justified or right in the moment, they don’t resolve conflicts.
It can be hard to know what to do and very overwhelming when our child’s first response is to lash out in this way. If we don’t help them learn to control their response now, it will be so much harder one day when they get older. Kids who continue to respond to conflict by lashing out in anger will become adults who cannot maturely handle conflicts in their job, friendships, marriage, and with their own children.
Make it right—> One of the most effective ways I’ve found for helping kids with this is role-playing. It sounds silly, but it works. Have your kids practice offending the other and then role-play a correct response. The more you practice things, the more they become habits, and we want the right response to be a habit! Another trick I’ve used is when walking into a conflict my kids are having, I’ll yell, “Freeze-frame!” They know this means to literally freeze. Sometimes just these words are enough to “knock” some sense into them because it takes them out of the moment. If not, this gives me a second to say, “Is this really the way you want to be responding?”
Note that a biblical response to conflict comes from a heart that wants to please God. If your kids aren’t saved, pray for that first! We can’t please God if we don’t want to.
4. Playing Judge Judy in Conflict Resolution With Kids
It can be tempting to think that if we can just hear all the sides and make a judgment, the conflict will go away. But the point isn’t to be Judge Judy and make rulings on who is right and who is wrong. No matter how well and wisely we discern right and wrong, we will not have peaceful homes until we deal with the real problem of wrong responses. If our kids never learn how to control their responses and achieve conflict resolution on their own, we will play Judge Judy at every family gathering for the rest of our lives!
The point is to help each of our kids see what they themselves could have done differently to prevent the escalation of a conflict. There is always something they can do—whether it’s walking away from a situation so they don’t explode in anger, speaking calmly to an angry person, or humbly letting the other person have their way—to defuse conflict and make resolution possible.
Make it right—> Is there ever an opportunity for a hearing of sides in conflict resolution? Nope. I don’t play “he said-she said.” But if you have a child who needs to be heard to process their own thinking, do it! I often listen to my kids without passing judgment, so they can “be heard” and talk themselves into the right response. Just remember to always focus on helping the kids see what they can do to resolve the situation versus listing the wrongs of the other person.
5. Playing the Blame Game Hinders Conflict Resolution for Kids
If your home is anything like mine, as soon as you walk into the room of a screaming Emily and crying Scott, the fingers start pointing.
The response to conflict we see from the beginning of time in the garden of Eden and still today is the very human tendency to blame other people. At the first sign of trouble, we deflect responsibility from ourselves and place it on others. Surely it is always their fault. We would never have responded how we did if she or he hadn’t done ____.
Of course, this comes naturally to our kids just as much as it did to Adam and Eve. But when we allow our kids to play the blame game, we’re actually hindering them from resolving conflict. Instead of always blaming someone else or believing it’s not their fault, our kids need to learn to look at their own responses and identify what THEY could have done differently. As they learn to take responsibility for their own actions, our kids won’t need to look for others to blame.
Teaching kids to look at their own responses and actions is one of the key steps in biblical conflict resolution! We’ve got excellent resources to help!
Resources for Teaching Conflict Resolution for Kids
The wonderful thing is that we don’t have to choose between false peace and continual fighting. We can teach our kids to resolve conflicts and make peace with their responses. Thankfully, we don’t have to figure out how to do this on our own—God has shown us what biblical conflict resolution looks like in His Word!
Check out Making Peace, our Bible study on conflict resolution for kids. As your kids work through this study, they will see what the Bible says about why we need peace, where we find peace, and how to resolve conflict by working things out and planning peace. It is part of our Relationship Series, designed to teach your kids Biblical principles for developing and strengthening Christian relationships. Each bundle box contains five age-appropriate Bible studies: Obey, My Brother’s Keeper, Making Peace, Becoming a Servant, and Navigating Friendships— plus, some fun bonus items! Check out the collection!
Another great resource for teaching kids conflict resolution is our magnetic Sibling Conflict Chart. It provides both Scripture and consistency when resolving conflict between siblings. It has been designed for your kids to consult and resolve conflict on their own. With categories for the one who sinned and the one who was sinned against, the chart walks through Scripture, prayer, and action to bring reconciliation and peace between siblings. Grab a chart and help create true peace and resolution in your home today!
Need More Resources on Conflict Resolution for Kids?
- Showing kindness to your enemies? God commands it. Here are some simple ways to do it, even if you don’t feel like it!
- Teach your children the 6 special reasons God gave them siblings and how to foster sibling love.
- Help your kids learn how to build strong sibling relationships.
- Here are some awesome sibling relationship builders!
Ever since she was a little girl, listening delightedly as her mom read books and poetry out loud to her, Jessica has been enraptured by the power of words. When she is not reading or scribbling down poems of her own, Jessica can most likely be found hiking with her husband or trying out new recipes. She has yet to discover at what point plants, journals, and coffee mugs become *excessive,* but is sure she can still find room for one or two more. Through her bachelor’s degree in English Literature, opportunities to write for various small publications, and experience as a Staff Writer for Not Consumed Ministries, Jessica has grown in her passion for writing and desire to share that passion with others. As she seeks to show the goodness and beauty of God in her calling as a writer-wife-homemaker, Jessica hopes to encourage you in your relationships with family, friends, and most importantly, in your relationship with Christ.