Are your children in frequent conflict? Do they annoy each other? Argue over who’s turn it is to do a job? Do you long for peace in your home?
As our children get older, feelings intensify and forgiveness is more difficult. Part of this is due to the development of the limbic system, or emotional center, of their brains.
Our goal is to move our teens/tweens into their brain’s cortex where logic and decision-making skills are developing. It’s hard work, but conflict resolution skills can be taught. And, living in a healthy family allows our teens and tweens to learn to deal with conflict in a healthy way.
Please Note: The earlier you begin teaching your children how to solve a conflict, the better! Children as young as three can learn basic skills.
Why Should We Take the Time to Teach Conflict Resolution?
Parents, conflict is such a difficult issue! Emotions run high, and we are often too exhausted to deal with it. To make matters worse, it is not easy to stay calm enough to coach our adolescents through their conflicts.
Allow siblings to fight and experience conflict so that they can practice resolution strategies in a safe, supportive environment. Positive relationships are one key to good health and happiness.
Just like any necessary skill such as cooking, cleaning, or driving a car, conflict resolution takes practice. It is not easy to stop our children from fighting. In fact, it may be easier to control the situation ourselves. Yet, it is worth the effort to raise adolescents with emotional intelligence and siblings who are friends for life!
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Why do Conflicts Occur?
It is important to address the foundational issue rather than just the behaviors. Click To Tweet Consider that conflicts between siblings may stem from:
- Different expectations
- Jealousy, aka sibling rivalry
- Feelings of injustice
- A need for attention
Help your adolescents name the feelings and recognize the root cause(s) of their behavior so that it may be addressed.
What Can We Do to Prevent Conflict?
Okay, so we can’t prevent it! After all, we are imperfect people parenting imperfect people. But, we can take steps to reduce conflict. These steps require effort and patience. Remember, you are patient and capable!
1. Model healthy conflict resolution skills.
2. Focus on the family as a team.
Make this part of your family values from early on and it will seem normal as your child ages. We use language such as, “In our family, we help each other out. We encourage each other.” If nothing else, we teach our children that we care enough about our family relationships to work through the difficulties together.
3. Practice living with a family motto.
As Christ followers, our family strives to live by Scripture. Again, because we aren’t perfect, we give each other grace in our goals to:
- “Treat others the way we wish to be treated.”
- “Love others as ourselves.”
- Focus on what is “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.”
(I print out verses and place them on mirrors around the house. When we look at ourselves, we remember to think of others!)
Ask questions based on your family motto when your children are in conflict to guide them into making better choices:
- “Are you being kind?”
- “Is this how you want to be treated?”
- “What could you do to be a peace maker?”
- “How could you focus on what is good and true?”
Warning: Sometimes a period to calm down is needed before the brain can process thoughts logically!
4. Provide opportunities to work together for a common goal.
When a goal is real, motivating, and possibly even emotional, “hostility gives way” according to Turkish social psychologist Muzafer Sherif in “The Robbers Cave Experiment.” Working cooperatively helps siblings get along better and appreciate each other’s strengths.
In our family, we do this through volunteer work with our church family. Working together to reshingle a roof, rebuild a deck with stairs, tile a floor, etc. makes what we are doing “not about us.” We work as a team to solve a problem that helps others. Our girls observe healthy young, middle-aged, and senior adults teach children on the team.
Other examples of family goals: plan a garage sale (and split the profits!) or a surprise party. And, look into local nonprofits where your family can volunteer.
5. Praise character traits and effort rather than performance.
Anyone can be kind, thoughtful, and a hard worker, but not everyone can be the fastest runner on the team.
Dr. Becky Bailey, the author of *Conscious Discipline, explains that “what you focus on, you get more of.” As parents, we focus on what we want. This strategy allows our daughters the opportunity to reflect on their behavior.
Take kindness for example. Family dinner discussions might include how we experienced or acted with kindness throughout the day. When our oldest daughter shared that a young man gave up his seat for her, we had a great discussion about character!
How Can We Stop the Children from Fighting and Resolve Conflict?
Often we fight to defend ourselves. Or, we simply remove ourselves to avoid conflict. Neither of these responses is healthy because there is no resolution.
Matthew 18 Principle
As Christians, our family seeks to follow the Matthew 18 Principle to resolve a conflict. Briefly, we
- Try to resolve the problem with the other person involved.
- If unsuccessful, we bring in 1-2 others to help resolve the issue.
- If still unsuccessful, we take the problem to an authority.
How this looks in our family:
- Our daughters are occasionally able to work problems out with each other by negotiating or relying on systems we have set in place.
- Often, though, they need parents to help them. We have a discussion that could easily be called a Family Meeting.
- If things escalate beyond our ability to guide them, we will seek professional help.
What are Family Meetings?
Family Meetings are a place where problems and goals can be discussed in a safe environment. Conflict resolution is hard. It requires patience, vulnerability, and flexibility. A supportive, encouraging environment with a basis of love is necessary.
A note of transparency: Our Family Meetings tend to occur around the dinner table. They are flexible and natural. In fact, we do not even call them a “Family Meeting.” In every description I’ve read about Family Meetings, the expert recommends having a set day of the week and organization to them. This feels too forced and unnatural to us, perhaps because we did not begin these meetings when they were younger.
Consider using a family meeting to discuss the problems of sibling conflict and practice the following conflict resolution skills.
7 Conflict Resolution Strategies
Please don’t be overwhelmed, parents! In reality, these strategies will happen faster than it takes to read them! Keep in mind your goals: healthy relationships for your children and peace in your families (and world)!
1. Take turns.
Okay, so this is a Kindergarten level skill. But, when teens are physically and emotionally exhausted, we have to go back to the basics.
For a 40-something year old mind like mine, it is impossible to remember who’s turn it is to feed the dog, set the table, or unload the dishwasher! So, we rely on Odd and Even days.
One child gets to do the job on Odd days, and the other does them on Even days. Obviously, this only works with two children. You have to be creative if you have more than two children!
Other strategies we rely on from the elementary years are Rock, Paper, Scissors, and Pick a Number. If they agree to use one of these strategies, they agree to accept the outcome!
2. Disagree respectfully.
Parents, it is so, so important to model this behavior in interactions with our spouses, teachers, and other people! It requires us to monitor our own selves. Do not be afraid to admit when you mess up. (Guilty: I need to stop calling people idiots when I’m driving!) Give yourself and your adolescent grace and room to grow. Don’t give up!
Michelle Borba in *Unselfie tells parents to explain: “You have the right to disagree. If you do, be calm and tell your view. You could say…”
- ‘I disagree because…’
- ‘That’s one idea. Here’s another…’
- ‘I have a different view because…’
- ‘ Have you thought about it this way…?’”
3. Use I-messages.
Sometimes teens and tweens do not realize how their behavior affects others.
I-messages allow people to communicate assertively without being passive-aggressive. Feelings are shared directly. Speaking this way is more effective than yelling or physically attacking each other.
I-messages start with phrases such as
- “I feel _____ when _____.”
- “I don’t like it when you _____ because _____.”
Using I-messages require one person to speak at a time. The listener must be respectful by maintaining eye contact and a still body.
Again parents, this is hard work and takes practice. Let me encourage you to teach it, practice it, reteach it, and teach it again and again. Stay the course!
4. Reflect on what you see and hear using a paraphrase.
As an adolescent uses an I-statement, the other sibling should restate what was said.
- “You are saying…”
- “It sounds like …”
- “You seem…”
- “I heard you say…”
Part of the reflection includes recognizing how the other person feels. Listening to understand is a valuable skill in interpersonal relationships.
5. Put yourself in their shoes. Describe their side.
- “If it were me, I’d feel…”
- “You think/need/want _____.”
This requires empathy to see the issue from another person’s point of view! In order to be understood, our teens need to first understand each other.
6. Seek a Win-Win Solution.
Together, the siblings should come up with ideas that both sides can agree upon. Parents may need to help guide the discussion with suggestions. The idea is to brainstorm, but not put down each other’s ideas.
By first stirring empathy in Step 5, the goal is for the adolescents to be more willing to compromise rather than keep score!
7. Decide on a solution and repair the hurt.
Hopefully, by now, conscience has kicked in! If not, you the parent, may need to guide your child further to be empathetic and recognize how the other person is feeling. Keep your parenting endurance up!
Encourage your adolescents to think how they want to be treated. Guide them to recognize that they want to be heard, understood, and forgiven. Ask them for ideas on how to repair the hurt in order to make the problem better.
You can help your children stop fighting and bring more peace into your home. Ultimately, conflict can be used to create connection instead of separation! Hopefully, your adolescents will use their skills to bring more peace into the world – at their schools, their future jobs, and in their future families!
Parents, how do you handle sibling conflict in a way that builds problem-solving skills? And, in the comments below, please let us know if any of these conflict resolution tips work for you!
For further information on conflict resolution skills, consider reading the following books. Thank you for supporting this site by clicking on the pictures to use the provided affiliate links!
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