Breaking Down Fights

by John Pate

lego figures fighting

Your kids won’t stop fighting.

You long for quiet, but the soundtrack coming from the kids’ room is playing the “fight theme” on repeat. The five-year-old hates the game the 7-year-old is trying to play and starts screaming. Wherever the toddler goes, chaos ensues. And it’s your job to break it up! Breaking up fights often becomes a key part of a parent’s job description.

As kids get older, it doesn’t always improve. With the emotional turmoil of the teenage years, fights can seriously escalate! When your daughter hauls off and slaps her brother, you might begin to wonder if your family needs an intervention.

A Better Solution

Perhaps, instead of always “breaking up” fights, we should take a moment to “break down” fights, asking the crucial question, “Where is all this coming from?” And even more importantly, “How can I help my children learn how to navigate their fights with each other?”

James 4:1–10 provides us with an excellent rubric for “breaking down” fights. Because my children are small (and love drawing), I have tried to work through this by drawing illustrations on paper. Honestly, that is probably the best approach for teens and adults too. Here’s how it goes.

James begins by asking the question, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” (v. 1) That’s the question, right? Surprisingly, James tells us that a fight between two people is actually an indication that there are three fights occurring. We’ll call these “battle 1,” “battle 2,” and “battle 3.”

Battle 1

The first battle is the presenting battle, the one that filled the house with soul-jolting screams and brought you running from the other room. In order to “break down” this fight effectively, it’s important to make sure the facts are straight in this battle. Who took what? How did the offended party respond? We’re not getting at motives here—just the facts.

At this point, I might draw two stick figures representing my two kids and draw angry faces on them—maybe a lightning bolt between them for good measure.

(Side note: I don’t know if your kids are anything like mine, but at this point, my kids will tell me to “PAUSE!” and run to the craft closet to pull out some 8 ½ by 11s and begin to meticulously copy what I’m doing. I really don’t know why my kids do that, but it does help them remember.)

Battle 2

Battle 1 is just the “surface battle.” James goes on to describe a second battle that is taking place on the inside. “What causes quarrels?” he asks. “Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (vv. 1–2).

The surface battle which presented in yelling, hitting, biting, etc. is actually being fueled by a battle on the inside. Your children want something they are not getting. And they want it so badly they will sin in order to get it—or they will sin if they don’t get it.

The Bible calls this thing an idol. You know something is an idol if its absence or removal from your life causes you to sin. What makes people commit murder? It’s typically because they want something so badly they would “kill to have it.” Or they had something they considered necessary removed from them, so they kill to try to make it right. It’s the same with fighting and quarreling.

At this point, draw a couple hearts next to your stick figures and a lightning bolt inside of each one. Then ask each child, “What did you want when you were fighting?” It might take some prodding, but try to get them to identify the thing they wanted. It could be something as simple and concrete as a toy, or it might be something a little less concrete like “I wanted quiet” or “They were ignoring me.”

Battle 3

But James doesn’t stop there, because these two battles are indicative of yet a third battle. And this battle is even more important. In verse 4 he directs our attention to our relationship with God and shows how, at the very moment we are idolizing something other than him, we are actually committing spiritual adultery! “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (v. 4).

So when your children fight, there is actually something going on between them and God. At this point write the word “GOD” at the top of the page and draw lightning bolts between the stick figures and “GOD.”

You do what you do because you want what you want. And you want what you want because you worship what you worship. So, at the end of the day, a regular old household fight is actually an indication that false worship is going on. No wonder James calls it adultery! God loves your children too much to let them forsake Him so easily. (See verse 5.)

It might be good to ask your kids what they were thinking about God when they were fighting. Were they thinking about Him at all? Who was the most important person in their life at that moment?


All of this is merely diagnostic. When it’s all said and done, we need to help guide our children in repentance toward God and restoration with each other. And of course, that’s exactly where James goes next!

If your children have felt the weight of what they’ve done, James’s next words will be a great encouragement to them: “But he gives more grace” (v. 6). Yes, God is displeased when we forsake Him, but He offers His grace! So how can your children accept His grace? James spells it out in verses 7–10.

  • “Submit to God”—What does God think and how can I obey?
  • “Resist the devil”—What lie did I believe?
  • “Draw near to God”—How can I approach His throne?
  • “Cleanse your hands…and purify your hearts”—What sin should I confess?
  • “Be wretched and mourn and weep: What steps can I take to turn from that sin?
  • “Humble yourselves”—How can I humbly accept His grace?

What does God promise to those who accept His grace? “He will exalt you!” (v. 10) Only God can do this! Only God can make our homes a place where every member of the family is walking closely with the Lord and experiencing His grace. Though fights may still happen, James’s rubric can help us guide our family from a place of turmoil to a place of grace.

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