When Kids Fight

By Lisa Hamel

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Let’s face it. Kids fight. The strong willed ones can seem to create conflict out of thin air while the easy going kid can be subversive or find ways to “push buttons.”  As a parent it is not something we have the opportunity to plan for. It happens not only at home but also in the car, in front of neighbors and even at church!

My husband and I were both middle children. We are peacemakers and we just want everyone to get along! No one wants their kids to argue, but these conflicts are opportunities to learn. As a parent, you may have grown up in a home where you watched your own parents yell or walk off in a huff. Or maybe you never watched your parents resolve conflict. If that’s the case, you may not have strong skills in resolving your own marital conflict, and on and on the cycle goes for your children. If we want to learn, model and equip our children with the relational skills to RESOLVE conflict, not just move past it until it dies down we are going to have to do three things:

1. Identify our feelings. Notice I didn’t say follow them! The person who can stop when they are angry and articulate that they feel upset using wise words is going to preserve the relationships much more than the person who just reacts. Again, let me reiterate that we don’t follow our feelings, but we do need to understand that we are having them. There are many more nuances for feelings, but when we are in a fight, it’s best to keep it simple. Life Model Works uses these 6 basic, negative emotions. 

Angry - This includes feeling frustrated.

Sad - I feel loss.

Fear - This includes feeling stress.

Shame - I feel bad about what I’ve done.

Hopeless Despair - I’m overwhelmed! I don’t have the resources for what is required of me.

Disgust - I’m grossed out and it effects me viscerally.

Any negative feeling can fit into one of these emotions. These are the result of being born into a sinful world with a broken body and brain! I find this list super helpful because it gives us handles and a vocabulary to understand each other and move forward. 

2.  Have some ground rules. Ground rules for conflict resolution help everyone involved!

Try these rules out at home:

Speaker: “I felt……….”

It’s important that they talk about their feelings, not just express them. (If they struggle to stay calm, take deep breaths with them. It may be hard to identify their feelings at first but with practice, they will grow!)

Keep it short.

Stay calm.

Listener:

  • Stay calm.
  • Don’t interrupt. Wait until it’s your turn to speak.
  • Listen well enough to repeat back what was said to you. 
  • Repeat it back so the speaker feels heard.

Then switch places. Once everyone feels “heard”, pray together! Ask God to show you how He sees the other person. If your kids are very young, you can still use this concept.  I keep a list of the above emotions with a matching facial expression, which helps my autistic son. If you use these ground rules, your kids and teens will soon be able to resolve conflict without a parental mediator!

Now I know what you’re thinking. “Lisa, there isn’t always time to sit down and flesh out every argument - life moves fast!” This is true, not every argument has time for a sit down, heart to heart talk. We can, however learn to pursue peace as a family, which brings me to my next point.

3. Create a culture of honor in our home. We honor each other’s feelings, even if they seem ridiculous to us. We honor each other’s property. We honor each other’s hearts.  

Dr. Jim Wilder, of Life Model Works, has honed the concept of honor, which he calls the "relational sandwich." This is about keeping the relationship bigger than the problem. It matters more that we stay relational than that we are right. So for those nit picky arguments that happen in the car on the way to school, you might say-

“We want to be a family that honors each other and when you shove each other before getting in the car, no one feels better about their day and it makes me sad to see you be unkind to each other. So let’s try to be a family that honors each other.”

Did you notice that the “parent message” about behavior was in the middle? It was surrounded on both sides by reinforcing the family or group identity as one of honor.

Creating a culture of honor takes time! This is not a quick fix but Galatians 6:9 says:

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

My children still fight; after all, they are still human and broken. But I have noticed more and more of this kindness flow from them. Every argument is an opportunity to remember that we are sinners who need a Savior. Thank you Jesus for your sacrifice! We can actually make our relationships stronger through healthy resolution than they were before! This will help them in their future relationships and marriages, and it can help your marriage too!


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Lisa is currently "SAHM-ing." In the past she has been a pastoral counselor, a singer, a music director, and an accountant! She lives in a multi generational home in the Pacific Northwest with her two boys, her amazing husband, and her mother. She is a coffee snob and a health nut who loves to dance like no one is watching. Check her out on Instagram and Facebook!