My husband and I don’t know how to get our kids to love each other.
We pray regularly for peace and continually ask for help in controlling anger and frustration in our home.
We share numerous examples with our kids of how real love acts (and doesn’t act), by looking at historical figures, biblical characters, family members, etc.
We ask others for advice and read many books on the subject.
We regularly remove privileges and institute consequences when the kids are unkind, demonstrating that their bad actions can negatively affect their lives.
We daily encourage our kids to “speak kindly to each other,”; to “have grace and patience with each other’s faults”; to “find ways to serve one another” and to “model servanthood by letting the other person go first.”
We are not perfect people, but our marriage (and interactions with each other) demonstrate these qualities.
And yet, here we are again, about to face another “family talk” on getting along and loving each other.
Why can’t we figure this out?
That was my desperate prayer a few days ago after I’d finally reached a tipping point with all the bickering around here.
Is it an impossibility to think that our kids can get along, even with their differences in temperament, age, gender and interests?
Boy, there are days when that seems like the best option. In those moments when they’re at each other’s throats, my battle-weary heart wants to tell them to give up because they’ll never get along.
At very least, there are times I want them to figure it out (in another room) so I don’t have to hear it because I am tired of playing referee with phrases like: “Try to see it her way.” “How can you love and serve him right now?” “Is this issue worth hurting your relationship?” and of course, “Please just get along!!!”
And yes, I do believe that kids need to figure it out themselves sometimes and we parents can’t always solve all their problems. However, there’s a fine line between letting them just duke it out and knowing when they need more teaching, modeling and instruction.
A Training Ground for Conflict Management
We believe that the home is the training ground for life. It is a safe place to learn and practice real world skills.
And part of those basic life skills is learning how to get along with those who are different from us.
Think of how it could change our children’s future destinies if they simply learned and practiced healthy conflict management skills from an early age! Relationships, marriage, business: if you’ve been in these situations for more than five minutes you know how critical it is to learn to get along with those who are different from you. What kind of life-long advantage would it give our kids? A HUGE one.
And yet, there’s no college course… no AP class that our kids can take to learn this. If they’re lucky, they pick up the skills at some work-sponsored seminar or maybe read a book about conflict in marriage.
But what if it’s too late then? What if irreparable damage has already been done? What about all those years (and those relationships) that have been spoiled up to that point because the tools simply weren’t there?
What if God’s design for sibling rivalry is to be an opportunity to learn (and practice) these powerful skills right now, in childhood, within the healthy boundaries of loving family relationships?
This was our mindset when we sat down with our kids at the family meeting a few days ago.
The Meeting (and the Questions)
At the meeting, we shared (once again) the reasons above why conflict resolution skills are critical for life.
We knew they’d heard this before.
They were good kids who (usually) tried their best. They weren’t inherently evil beings who were out to get each other. They were selfish sinners, just like us, who by their nature make mistakes and sometimes just don’t want to do (or don’t know how to do) the right thing.
They, like us, were just figuring this all out.
So first we offered them grace and forgiveness for their mistakes, and we asked them to apologize to one another. Then we simply stated: what practical tools or methods do you need to make it possible to live in harmony? Are there questions you need answered?
Their responses were astute, telling (and universal for most conflicts). They asked us things like: “How do you solve a problem when you both want your own way?” and “How do you control your anger when you’re really mad at someone?”
Believing that the Bible is the answer book for the big questions of life, we pledged to spend time as a family looking through scripture for these answers.
So, that’s what we’ve done the past few nights after dinner. No agendas, no outlines in mind of where to go or what to teach. Taking one question a night, we’ve simply asked God to show us verses that would give us practical insight. And honestly, it’s been amazing what we’ve discovered.
The Great Experiment (and Hopefully, the Great Change)
We start by searching together for verses that give meaningful, tangible solutions to the question (a concordance has been helpful). Once we’ve discovered a passage or two, we write down the key phrases or words from the passage on a small whiteboard (the kids take notes).
Next we write down a visual that comes to mind to explain the point. For example, last night we answered, “How do you get along with someone who bugs you?” Our main teaching was from Colossians 3:12-15:
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace.
“Make allowance” reminded me of the “two-second rule” that we’re told about in Driver’s Education classes (remember that? Keep at least a two-second distance from the car in front of you?). The reasons for this when driving are clear: if we leave extra space between cars, then we won’t cause an accident if the car in front was to stop suddenly.
But what if we thought of relationships in the same way, especially relationships with those who are different from us? Isn’t it reasonable to assume that there may be some potential “rear-end collisions”? So, what if we anticipated those and left some breathing room for people to be different? If we became extra sensitive around people’s hot buttons (or if we anticipated their “strange” responses in certain situations), wouldn’t we be less shocked by them and thus have less conflict?
The visual for “above all, clothe yourselves in love” was simply a stick figure of a person “wearing” a shirt with “love” on it. This was to remind us that we can choose to put on or take off an attitude of love towards someone, just like we take on or off our clothing.
So now, we have two practical visuals that we reference with the kids when this situation occurs. We’ve written them (along with the scriptures) on a whiteboard in our kitchen so that we can glance at them often (you know, just in case we forget).
As the days have progressed, we’ve had a few opportunities to practice using our new tools (go figure, in a house full of imperfect people). And along with basic conflict resolution patterns we’ve always talked about (confession, asking for/receiving forgiveness, and searching for a reasonable solution), they seem to be working well.
Two of our children have an especially tumultuous relationship, and we knew they needed a more drastic intervention in order to see changes. So, we’ve asked them to spend their free time together for the rest of the week. We also did some bed switch-a-roo and now these two are sharing bunk beds, at least for the next several weeks, in order for them to work out their differences.
After only one night in the same room, we were shocked to hear that their relationship was already improving.
“I just think I need to get to know her better,” one of the new roommates said the following morning.
“Yes, you really do,” I said, after I picked my jaw up off the floor.
So the experiment continues. I’m sure the tools will be constant use. And we probably haven’t had the last family meeting on this topic.
But we’re praying that it will get better. That love, peace (and civility) will reign most days.
And more importantly, we’re praying they can practice the basics here in our home so they’ll be equipped to handle adult-size conflict in a few short years.
How do you and your family handle conflict?