I had only been on the phone for a few minutes when my preschool children launched into one of their daily power struggles. Crying, shouting, and blame-shifting echoed through our previously quiet home. I quickly finished my conversation before heading to the living room to referee.
When I arrived, though, I was surprised to find them laughing and playing together. My daughter looked up at me and said proudly, “It’s okay, Mommy! We did peacemaking!” I was thankful—and more than a little surprised.
Currently, we are in a unique time in history where life as we know it has been grinding to a halt. With schools closed and families encouraged to stay at home due to COVID-19, Christian families will have many opportunities to argue and disagree. We will also have opportunities to live as peacemakers.
From our children’s earliest years, my husband and I taught, and sought to model, principles of biblical peacemaking. Taking encouragement from Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 18, as well as Paul’s repeated exhortations to be at peace (e.g. Rom. 12:18; 14:19; 2 Cor. 13:11; Eph. 4:3), we tried to equip our kids to honor God in the way they solved their inevitable conflicts.
Our kids had many opportunities to practice peacemaking with us and with each other, which helped to preserve our family relationships, especially as we walked together through their tumultuous teenage years. It wasn’t always easy. We had our share of painful quarrels, but, by God’s grace, we also had many peaceful resolutions.
Responses to Conflict
In our family, we talked about both harmful and helpful ways people typically respond to conflict. (I also explain these in The Young Peacemaker.) We taught our kids that when they tried to escape a conflict by denying their contribution, blaming one another or running away from a relationship, the problem always became worse. Similarly, when they went on the attack by putting others down, engaging in gossip or getting into a fight, painful conflicts usually damaged their relationships and left them lonely and isolated.
Yet when our kids chose to practice the work-it-out responses to conflict, their relationships grew stronger. As parents, our goal is to help our children become competent and grace-filled peacemakers who can work out solutions to their own conflicts. When sibling squabbles and peer arguments arise, we want them to have the necessary tools to pursue peace.
Three Peacemaking Skills
Here are three skills to teach your children to put into practice when they’re in conflict with others.
1. Overlook It
The first skill is for them to learn to overlook an offense (see Prov. 12:16; Prov. 17:14; Prov. 19:11; Col. 3:13; 1 Peter 4:8). In other words, they can simply decide to forgive a wrong committed against them and walk away from a conflict even if the person who hurt them doesn’t acknowledge their wrongdoing. This allows them to continue to enjoy growing, healthy relationships with others because they choose to not let an offense stand between them.
When sibling squabbles and peer arguments arise, we want them to have the necessary tools to pursue peace.
When a sibling snatches a toy or hogs the laptop, a peacemaker learns to walk away and refuse to become bitter.
2. Talk About It
If they cannot overlook the offense, a conflict can also be resolved by going directly to the person who offended them to talk-it-out together (see Matt. 18:15; Prov. 28:13; Gal. 6:1-3). This option includes getting the log out of their own eye by confessing their wrongs to those they have offended. It also includes respectfully helping others understand how they’ve contributed to the conflict. The goal here is to guard and preserve relationships through humble confession and genuine forgiveness from both sides, and to grow even closer together.
When a sibling hurls unkind words or refuses to cooperate on a task, a peacemaker speaks to them, describes the problem, and invites their suggestions for a solution.
3. Get Help
There are times, however, when neither overlooking an offense nor trying to talk-it-out together solves the problem. At such times, children need to be willing to get help from trusted advisers—advisers who will guide them biblically instead of telling them what their itching ears want to hear (see Matt. 18:16–17; Phil. 4:2–3; Prov. 15:1; Eph. 4:29).
As parents, our first instinct is often to rush into children’s conflicts with solutions and consequences. In certain circumstances, this may become necessary. But to help our kids become peacemakers, we need to focus on equipping them to do the work of resolution.
To help our kids become peacemakers, we need to focus on equipping them to do the work of resolution.
A parent’s first step in helping kids in conflict is coaching them to know what to say to someone with whom they’re in conflict. We help our children plan how to go back to the other person to have a constructive personal conversation.
If a personal conversation doesn’t work, then it’s probably time for mediation. You or another adult can bring both sides together to help them have a respectful conversation and to find a mutually agreeable solution to their disagreement. Mediators help each person to listen more carefully and take responsibility for their own choices, as well as suggest options for solving a conflict.
When coaching and mediation fail, arbitration may be required. Both sides explain their understanding of a conflict to a person in authority who then decides what should be done. Children are expected to accept whatever the arbitrator decides.
Even if parents end up deciding who gets the toy or what restitution the offending sibling should make, it’s still valuable to walk our children through each of the tools for peace that they have at their disposal. With practice, they will become more competent at achieving resolution.
One of my greatest joys today is to see our adult children begin to teach these and other peacemaking principles to their own children. It makes all those years of teaching, practicing, stumbling, and re-teaching worth it when we hear our grandchildren confess their sins toward one another, forgive each other in the same way Christ forgives them, and begin playing as if the offense hadn’t happened.
With practice, they will become more competent at achieving resolution.
You are your children’s most influential example. As they see you model these principles yourselves, and as they begin to practice them over and over in their daily lives, they will develop habits that bring peace to your home and that enable them to experience the truth of Jesus’s marvelous promise in Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the sons of God.”