Conflict occurs in almost every aspect of our life, and nearly almost every day to various degrees. In order to successfully navigate through conflict, we must efficiently practice peacemaking. But peacemaking is not a natural instinct — it is a skill which we must learn.
According to authors Ken Sande and Tom Raabe in their book Peacemaking for Families, the following 12 principles will help you mold your children into successful peacemakers. These principles will help you teach your children the importance of peacemaking skills in their daily lives, help them understand the causes of conflict, and teach them how to resolve conflict peacefully. Through active times of teaching, modeling appropriate behavior, and giving them plenty of social interaction to practice and develop their skills, you will prepare them for successful relationships.
Teach about Responsibility
Sande describes conflict as a “slippery slope” with three zones. Explain to your children that when they face conflict, they have three choices: escape, attack, or work it out. The first two options have negative consequences that can create even larger problems and possibly ruin their relationships. Teach your children that conflict happens to everyone, and that solving it peacefully is the only positive solution. Explain that either avoiding the problem or going on the offensive will only make the situation worse.
Sande explains that in the first danger zone, called the Escape Zone, your children will try to avoid the conflict, rather than solve it. They may either choose to deny the conflict, blame others, or run away from the situation. The second danger zone is called the Attack Zone, which involves attempting to win a fight rather than resolve it. These attacks often hurt the relationship rather than repair it, and include put downs and name-calling, gossiping, and physical fighting.
The positive response to conflict is found in the Work-It-Out Zone. These options include overlooking and forgiving the offense, talking it out with the other person directly, and seeking help from an adult on how to handle the situation.
Teach about the Heart
When your children act out, it is often because something is troubling them internally. Yet children need to learn that they are responsible for their actions, no matter what they are feeling inside. Explain that they have the power to choose whether they will be obedient or disobedient, and that ultimately conflict begins within our own hearts.
Teach about Consequences
Too often we use the term “consequence” as another word for “discipline” or “punishment.” But consequences also mean how our actions affect other people. Make sure your children understand that their words, behaviors, and attitudes not only affect themselves, but other people as well. When they are hurtful to another person, that has negative consequences. When they choose to help another person, that has positive consequences. Conflict is an example of a negative consequence stemming from an unwise choice or action.
Teach about Wisdom
It’s easy to be selfish and make choices that are best for ourselves. But train your children to think of others when making decisions. Teach them how to make wise and right choices, how to obey authority, how to seek godly advice from others, and how to show respect to other people. Let them know that life is not about always seeking to have things our own way, but to also look out for the people around us.
Teach about Accountability
Teach your children to be responsible for their behaviors. Don’t let them blame other people for their own misbehavior or make excuses for their behavior. Let them know that whenever we make mistakes, we must apologize without making excuses or blaming the other person. Let them know that “I am sorry I did that, but you made me mad,” is not an acceptable apology.
Teach about Opportunity
Even through stressful conflicts, we have opportunities to show character and help others. Through tough situations, we have the chance to learn from our mistakes and become better people. When we see that we have hurt another person, we can use that situation to reconcile and improve our relationship. Let your children know that whenever they fail, there is still hope to turn a bad situation into a good one.
Teach Peacemaking Skills
Sande provides the “Five A’s of Conflict Resolution” which will help your children remember how to walk through the peacemaking process. First, Admit the wrong — both wrong motives and actions. Second, Apologize for the offense and express sorrow. Third, Accept the consequences without excuses. Fourth, Ask for forgiveness. Fifth, Alter future choices and plan to act differently next time.
Have your children memorize this list, and make sure they understand what each step means. Practice these skills by role playing conflict situations together. Point out examples (both good and bad) of conflict resolution on television, in movies, and in books. Ask your children, “How should that person have handled that situation? What would you have done differently?” Like any skill, peacemaking must be learned and practiced in order to be most effective.
Teach about Forgiveness
Forgiveness is not saying an empty, “I’m sorry.” Forgiveness does not mean you simply don’t feel mad at someone anymore. Forgiveness is a choice that your children must make.
Sande explains that when we forgive someone, we internally make four promises to that person. First, we promise not to dwell on the other person’s mistake. Second, we promise not to use the situation as a weapon later (“Remember that time you…”) or hold it over that person’s head to make them feel guilty. Third, we promise not to gossip or talk about that person’s mistake to other people. Fourth, we promise to become friends with that person again. Sande provides the following poem that will help your children remember these four promises: “Good thought, Hurt you not, Gossip never, Friends forever.”
Teach about Choices
Sometimes we fall into the mentality of “I’ve already messed this one up, why bother?” But teach your children that it’s never too late to turn away from doing the wrong thing. Tell them that when they find themselves in a conflict they created, or they find themselves handling a conflict poorly, they can always stop their current actions, think through a better plan of action, and then follow that wiser plan.
Teach about Thoughtfulness
Sometimes children (and adults) blurt out the first thing on their minds, especially when they are upset. But teach your children how to thoughtfully consider their words before speaking. Teach them to count to 10 to calm themselves down before responding to someone who has angered them. Teach them to think through the best course of action before confronting someone. Teach them to look at the situation through the eyes of a peacemaker, and not someone who just wants to fight back.
Teach about Respect
Treating people with respect is not only beneficial for other people, but for ourselves as well. Explain to your children that their attempts at peacemaking will go much better if they talk and act with respect to the other person. Ask them how they feel when someone disrespects them — are they more likely or less likely to listen to that person? Showing respect means choosing affirming words, listening to the other person, using a calm tone of voice, and displaying engaging body language such as making eye contact. Let them know that name-calling, blaming the other person, yelling, whining, pouting, arm-crossing, eye-rolling, and foot-tapping are all signs of disrespect.
Teach about Appeals
Teach your children how to make a respectful appeal to another person. Explain that this simple step can help avoid conflict. Instead of demanding a toy or a favor from someone, your children will find much more success (and much less conflict) by giving a respectful appeal. Sande explains the process as first stopping yourself from saying or doing something that will cause conflict. Then think about the words you will use to ask for what you want. Then use “I” messages and questions to communicate the appeal (teach your children that an “I” message is saying something like, “I would like to use that doll now,” instead of the “you” message of “You always get to play with that!”). The final step in an appeal is being prepared to respond respectfully — even if you don’t get what you want. This last step requires self-control and the ability to show grace and respect even in the face of defeat.
Teaching your children to wisely prevent and handle conflicts will take plenty of practice. Through time they will begin to learn valuable character lessons in respect, selflessness and self-control that will aid them in the peacemaking process. Be sure to incorporate lessons in their daily lives as you see them interact with siblings, as you watch television or read a book together, and as you model peacemaking skills in your own conflicts. Make the lessons fun — create games and award prizes as they memorize the five A’s of conflict resolution and the four promises of forgiveness. Reward your children with praise whenever you see them handle a situation peacefully. The lessons will take planning and effort on your part, but you will be instilling valuable skills and character traits which will give your children a lifetime of successful and peaceful relationships.
This article is based on the book Peacemaking for Families: A Biblical Guide to Managing Conflict in Your Home by Ken Sande and Tom Raabe.