This has been a summer of much conflict in our home.
From the day we stopped homeschooling for the summer, and started our holidays, the level and frequency of conflict increased dramatically.
Judging by what I hear from other moms, we are not alone in this.
It’s understandable – there’s so much time suddenly for spending a lot of time at home with siblings, with much less structure.
But I felt like I was losing my mind, just a bit.
What annoyed me even more than the fact that I was losing my mind, was the common response to all of this:
Kids just fight. It’s normal – get used to it.
Let them figure it out on their own – it’s good for them.
Just increase your tolerance.
I listened to all of that for awhile, until one day it suddenly hit me – It goes against what I believe about parenting, and raising children who will be godly adults some day.
I believe in training children to become awesome adults. (I don’t expect that to happen all on it’s own.)
I believe in using Biblical truths when training my children. (Peace and unity are taught in the Bible. I think they’re pretty important.)
If something is wrong, and it’s hurting my heart, I believe in standing up and doing something about it. (Not turning my head and ignoring the situation until it passes.)
Yes, there is such a thing as “natural behaviour”. But as Christians, I believe we can long for the supernatural.
I know I’m not an expert on parenting. Most days, I’m at a complete loss, and don’t have a clue. If I look like I know what I’m doing, I’m probably faking it.
But here’s what I do know: Conflict is a part of life.
It would be unrealistic to expect my children to play perfectly together, every single moment of the day. HOWEVER, as their mom, I believe I can do a lot to teach them how to have healthy conflict, and solve problems in ways that will equip them for being adults.
I’ve witnessed a lot of conflict between adults. After being in full-time ministry for over 10 years, we’ve seen some things. I’m still learning, but I know of a few things we’ve learned along the way, which I am trying to teach our girls right now, that work equally well for adults or children:
1) Almost anything can be expressed, as long as it’s expressed in the right way.
This tidbit of wisdom was given to me by someone whom I really admire when it comes to self-control, living with intention, and choosing words wisely.
I’m not a fan of holding things inside. Emotional constipation has never worked well for me.
However, letting all those emotions burst forth all over another person can become extremely messy.
But when we can express our thoughts and feelings in a calm, reasonable way, we build bridges of understanding. I’m still learning to do this myself, but I believe in giving our girls a head-start. Children are capable of calmly expressing their needs to each other, but they will most likely not do this naturally, of their own accord.
My friend gave me a great tip: Teach them to use a “bug” and a “wish”.
“It bugs me when _______________. I wish you would ________________.” (Seriously don’t think this would be a bad idea for some adults, either…)
I’ve been trying to use this a lot over the last week, and it’s been working wonderfully with Anika. Kaylia, not so much. She didn’t seem to be catching on, but suddenly one morning, when Anika was hugging her a bit too tightly around the waist, Kaylia surprised us all when she burst out, “Anika, it bugs me when you choke me! I wish you’d go choke someone else!!!”
I think she gets it now. I have some work to do in other areas, though, it would seem…
2) Look for ways to “lower the temperature”, as quickly as possible.
When everybody is all fired up, nothing is going to process well. Anika will be all loud and worked up about something Kaylia’s done, but she finds it hard to hand the situation over to me. It’s worked really well to explain things to her by comparing fights to temperature.
“What temperature is it in here right now – hot or cold?”
“How can we lower the temperature so everyone calms down enough so we can discuss this?”
(This has also been an extremely uncomfortable reminder to myself to keep my own “temperature” down! You can’t yell that line to your kid, with a clear conscience…)
3) Time alone for a little break can be a good thing – not a punishment.
Everybody needs a break sometimes. When things are crazy, I separate the girls, which Anika always took as a “time-out”. I explained to her that it wasn’t a punishment – it was just a way to distance herself from the things that were upsetting her.
Time alone before things get bad can also be really helpful. Even adults get sick of each other if they overdo time spent together. It sounds ridiculous, but before we ever left on our honeymoon, Ben and I decided we would take one afternoon during our trip to spend time alone.
It was an amazing afternoon. We were staying at a bed and breakfast in Victoria, and I spent an hour doing my devotions (which had been very neglected during our honeymoon!) in the beautiful garden. Afterwards, I played piano for a long time, never knowing that Ben heard me, and sneaked down the stairs to sit and listen to me playing.
After our alone time, it was great to be together again – we had new thoughts to share, and felt refreshed and ready to continue enjoying our trip. Being alone for a bit made being together again even nicer.
Learning to enjoy being alone, as well as learning to recognize the need for it, is a skill I want our girls to learn.
4) God offers us peace in every situation.
A few weeks back, as I was wrestling with how to keep my sanity this summer, I was praying about the fighting, and asking God to show me what in the world I was supposed to do.
Instantly, a picture came to my mind of me rushing over to my fighting girls, laying a hand on each of them, and praying out loud, “Father, where is your peace in this situation?”
I would never have come up with such an idea on my own. But as I thought about it, I realized this strategy would accomplish a few things:
- It would teach my girls that prayer is always the first and best answer, in any situation.
- It recognizes the fact that there is peace in every situation. God longs for us to live in unity, and I believe He always provides a way for us to find it, if we look to Him, and pray for the wisdom to rise above what’s natural and human. He always offers a supernatural peace.
- Instead of one girl against the other, I form a bridge between all of us as we look, together, to God. Suddenly, we’re kind of on the same side as we search for the peace. We get our heads together as we try to find a strategy, a compromise to which everyone can agree.
(I don’t do this every time. I’m still learning, too. We’re all practicing.)
Maybe the best part in all of this is that I no longer feel as though I’m helpless and frustrated as I repeatedly watch my children fighting and hurting each other. Now I have a plan. I have tools. I have a clear picture in my mind of what I want to accomplish, and I know this: It will not happen if my children are left to themselves.
Sure, they may learn to work things out, but in what way? If some adults don’t even know how to work through conflict in a healthy way, how are children going to figure it out? I am of the opinion that they must be taught, and they need tools.
I can try to do that for my girls.
What are your strategies for resolving conflict, with adults or children?!