“When you have one person in a house, how many sinners are in the house?” I asked my oldest child. “One,” she answered. “And when you have five people in a house?” “Five!”
When we had our second child, I don’t think I anticipated how much of my time would be spent playing peacemaker.
While my kids generally get along with each other, each new child adds one more conflict point. And five conflict points make for regular conflict!
My Selfish Default
If I have a default pitfall as a dad, it’s prioritizing my comfort over everything else. What really gets in the way of my comfort? Kids screaming at each other.
When the fighting and screaming starts, I respond with one thought: What’s the quickest way to get the fighting to stop?
What’s the problem with this approach? It often bypasses growth in my kids and leads to me “fixing” all the problems. It’s like a parent who practically gives their child the answers to the homework so “we can just go to bed.” It’s a dangerous habit that makes for stunted growth.
Five Steps for Conflict Resolution
So how do you teach your children to resolve their own conflicts? Let me offer five brief directives.
1. Teach your children the Bible.
The Bible gives both accurate descriptions of sin and biblical solutions to it. Both are important.
Teach your children to use biblical words to describe their sin (e.g., “anger” or ”lying”). This may seem like a basic step, but we so often use softened words to describe our own sins.
The Bible provides specific instruction for conflict resolution, particularly in the book of Proverbs, so memorize key passages together as a family to equip your children.1
2. Teach your children how to analyze conflict.
One passage is particularly extremely practical for conflict resolution. And it’s easy enough for a four year-old to understand.
James 4:1–2 says,
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? 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.
James identifies the central trouble in our conflict: warring desires. There are two ways your desires can fight with others: having what you don’t want or wanting what you don’t have.
So I’ve taught my children to ask those two questions (which are really the same question from different angles):
- What do I have that I don’t want?
- What do I want that I don’t have?
Calling out the central point of conflict is crucial to biblical resolution, as it brings the core motivation for conflict out into the light.
3. Teach your children to sit and pray.
When I find myself responding in anger with my children, I often go into another room, sit, and pray. The time alone with God is re-centering and calming.
Teach your children to do the same! At first, I’d show my kids what to do. I’d split them up, give them 3–4 minutes with a book or a toy, and then (once they were calm) help them each pray and ask for God’s help to have peace with the other before returning to conflict resolution.
Those few moments do wonders! After a few times, my kids picked up on the pattern and could practice the routine by themselves.
4. Teach your children to ask questions.
Conflict so often explodes because we assume others’ motives or scream out commands. Teaching your children to ask questions first gives them the tools to navigate conflict.2
For example, let’s say one child is playing with a Nintendo Switch and pauses to use the restroom. Your other child enters the room and starts playing, only to be confronted by the first.
Here are a few questions one or both of your children could ask:
- ”Did you know I was playing with the Switch?”
- “When will you be done with your turn? Can I play with it after you?”
- “Can I have the controller back?”
- “I was in the middle of the game and you lost my place. That hurt my feelings. Did you mean to hurt me?"
By asking questions (rather than making these same inquiries as statements), your children are leaning into resolution. I often ask my kids, “Was that a question or a statement?” Asking questions first gives conflict resolution room to work.
5. Teach your children to fight for peace.
This final principle is often the most difficult as a parent. Make your children struggle through conflict to peace without your constant intervention.3
What does this look like practically? I will often tell my kids, ”I’d like you both to go up to your room and figure out what the problem is and how to fix it. I’ll be up in a few moments to check on you. If you solve it before then, come back down and we’ll talk about it. If you can’t solve it, we’ll come up with a solution together.”
My six and four year-old can often come to a resolution without my intervention when prompted and given the chance. Then I get to “debrief” with them afterwards and ensure there is true resolution.
If the conflict seems especially sharp, I will sometimes preface the conversation with a shared consequence (e.g., “If you can’t come to peace, you will both lose your dessert tonight after dinner.”). A little motivation for peace can be healthy.
Teaching your children to resolve conflict is difficult because it takes time, energy, and investment. And I like my comfort.
But in the long run, children who have practiced peace-making become adult peacemakers.
”If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18)
Here are a few key passages: Proverbs 10:12; Proverbs 12:18, 20; Proverbs 15:1, 18; Proverbs 16:7; Proverbs 17:9, 14; Proverbs 19:11; Proverbs 20:3; Proverbs 21:23; Proverbs 24:29; Proverbs 25:21–22; Proverbs 29:20. ↩︎
Generally speaking, “what,” “how,” and “when” questions are best. “Why” questions are often not questions, but accusations. ↩︎
Of course, sometimes you’ll need to step in and provide guidance, but your kids really do need to wrestle through conflict to peace. ↩︎
Growing Fathers Team
Chris serves as a part-time associate pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Liberty, Utah. He and his wife, Megan, have three young children—Ella, Nora, and Jude.View all posts by Chris