I think we’ve all either done it ourselves or we’ve overheard an exasperated parent say ‘for goodness sake just stop your fighting and be nice to each other” – whatever “be nice” might mean when siblings are in the thick of a furious power struggle!
Amongst the most luxurious insights, a parent could bless their children with, would be to gift them with a foundational understanding of the social skills and emotional insight required to repair conflict in a way that preserves authentic unity - something so precious to Jesus. (Eph 4)
Without intentionality on the part of a parent or caretaker, children will default to imitating whatever characters they’re allowed to watch on TV, how they see conflict being resolved at home, rely on brute force or use intimidating levels of volume to satisfy their need for instant gratification. Children and teenagers need to be taught how to connect and repair because it’s not something that comes naturally to anyone.
As always, the timeless wisdom of Scripture gives us the GPS co-ordinates.
One only has to consider the wisdom compacted into Proverbs 15:1 "Harsh accusatory words inflame anger, whereas a gentle calm answer defuses the raw intensity of anger".
Other repair gems are tucked into Colossians 3: 12. "In the thick of the conflict, choose compassion, choose kindness, practice humility and take the higher road - be patient.
Build in margin space for each other’s faults. Ultimately, focus on forgiving one another." So we learn that bridges of repair are built from the components of good character when siblings “don’t want to be friends with each other anymore”.
Here are five entry-level suggestions for those serious about equipping their children with the spiritual backdrop against which all social skills and emotional intelligence are sourced.
1. Firstly to understand it’s completely normal for two people to see the same situation and reach different conclusions.
Two pairs of extra large plastic sunglasses with different coloured lenses will highlight this point clearly. Another idea for older children might be to draw a large 6 on paper. Have two children stand at either end of the six and call out the number they see, which of course will either be a six or a nine. Numbers 13 is a great chapter that will highlight this point.
2. Give your children the emotional vocabulary to help them recognise the feelings and emotions they’re grappling with.
For example “I can see you are angry and upset because when Thabo said “No” to you, you folded your arms, scowled at him and then started to use a big loud voice”.
Watching your eyes "smile" with excitement tells me just how happy you're feeling.
Whilst reading a book together try to chat about the different emotions various characters might be experiencing, be it excitement, fear, guilt or sadness or worry.
3. Teach children gently how to self soothe and calm down when they are feeling overwhelmed with intense emotion.
When a child is overwhelmed with emotion, a little walk might serve as an effective distraction as might praying gently for them. The point being that instead of rebuking them publically, anchor them with your presence until they’ve quietened enough to really hear you say “I LOVE YOU but I need you to understand it’s not OK to hit or hurt anyone when you’re feeling anger. Rather talk about your frustration. Now is there something you want me to understand before you go back and apologise to ……?” I Peter 3:9
Be diligent to affirm good character when a child apologises for their contribution to any conflict.
Humility and a sincere apology pave the way for effective reconciliation. Colossians 3:25-29
4. Effective repair always involves two people taking it in turns to explain how they each felt without blaming eg “I felt cross when you ………” as opposed to “you always cheat to win!”
During a sibling squabble, each child needs to be given space to explain how they saw the situation. Teach a child to be patient, listen and not interrupt when it's someone else’s turn to talk. James 1:19.
Afterwards you can model ” What I hear you saying Simi is ……..and so we’re going to ask Jesus to help you both figure out a way to fix the problem but to call your Ayanda unkind names is not how Jesus taught us to live together. It’s OK to complain that her behaviour is making you unhappy but to belittle who Jesus made her is wrong and it’s not going to solve the problem.’ Titus 3: 2
5. Facilitate opportunities for children to practice problem solving.
Initially offer little ones a choice between two good solutions but as they grow older encourage children to practice their problem solving skills when someone else has made them sad or angry. This is one way to lead children to understand the beauty of extending forgiveness and receiving it. Matthew 5:9
The heart behind pursuing reconciliation is that are loved by a Lord who intends relationships to be a lifegiving blessing. This doesn’t mean that conflict and differences of opinion won’t happen periodically. It simply means that when they arise, we know to speak the truth gently starting with “I feel ….” vs shouting “you always/ you never etc”
The best of friendships have built in margin space to be able to speak the truth and yet always forgive each other. Ephesians 4:15
If you can get this message across, you will have done well to lay a solid God honouring foundation that will help your children develop social and emotional confidence to know how to respond and repair conflict, whatever context they find themselves in, as they grow up.
Women Of Reverence welcomes guest blogger Debi Jones.
Debi Jones who is a pastoral counselor at North Hills Church in PMB and a Relationship Coach. Her endless passion is journeying with and coaching people on how to set their relationships up for success.
Debi brings with her life insight from forty years of marriage and thirty-five years in ministry!