Empowering Kids to Resolve Conflict: Starting the Conversation

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Truly resolving relational conflict is an invaluable life skill. As moms, we are well familiar with conflict. Whether it’s a disagreement in our marriage or the millionth fight (of the day!) among our kids, we know that conflict is inevitable wherever two people are together.

Conflict resolution is not just smoothing over rough patches or sweeping things under the proverbial rug. It often requires bravely and humbly confronting another person, while being willing to own up to your own contributions to the conflict.

If your home is anything like mine, you have numerous opportunities to practice conflict resolution. We know the drill – talk to your sibling first before tattle-telling, own your part, and choose to forgive and ask for forgiveness. But sibling conflicts usually happen when I’m within earshot and have some idea about what went down.

What about conflict that happens away from home? How do I empower a child to resolve conflict when I don’t have the advantage of observing the play by play? As a mom, I want my children to learn to be peacemakers.

Awhile ago, one of our daughters began returning home from a homeschool program in tears. Often. And always about drama with the same friend. I have the pleasure of knowing this friend and understand that she and my daughter have much in common. These sweet girls are passionate. They are creative. I have been an audience member to the most imaginative backyard plays where these girls act out detailed scripts with the full spectrum of human emotion on display. But, they bring that same passion to their disagreements. When describing a conflict, my daughter insisted that this friend wasn’t unkind or inconsiderate…she was THE MEANEST, RUDEST, WORST FRIEND IN THE HISTORY OF ALL FRIENDS!! Did you catch all that? And, she was probably the STINKIEST too; but the verdict was still out on that point.

Ah, yes. I’m now paying a bit more attention. After waiting in vain to see if this problem would resolve itself, a new approach was needed. A mother daughter heart-to-heart should do the trick. My first step was to ask some questions. What happened? How might you look at this situation differently? What might your friend have to say about this conflict? Have you considered the ways you might be contributing to this conflict? The answer to that last question was a firm, “No!” and back to the “She’s the meanest, rudest…”

This series of questions allowed us to have several really wonderful discussions. They gave me a platform to share with my daughter about conflict in my own life – with friends, with my husband, and with co-workers. The situation allowed me to relate to her as another imperfect human being. While I want to look humbly at those with whom I experience conflict, choosing to believe the best about them, honestly evaluating my own contributions and taking the steps necessary to pursue reconciliation, I often fail at those things. Perhaps we could grow together in our pursuit of peacemaking.

After several weeks of these heart-to-heart discussions producing little to no progress in the friend drama department, I had an idea. I wondered if this mom and I could sit down alongside our passionate, fiery daughters and help them walk through their conflict? I really wanted to empower my daughter to solve this conflict independently, but perhaps there was an important intermediary step toward accomplishing that goal.

Thankfully the other mom in this situation was incredibly gracious and like-minded. We set a time to meet – the four of us – and came up with a plan. Each girl would prepare some thoughts and the moms would help guide the conversation while allowing the girls to carry as much as they could.

With a bit of prompting and only a few periods of awkward silence and accompanying stares, these girls expressed:

  • They both desired to continue their friendship and wanted to work through their conflict so they could get back to having fun together.
  • Gently sharing their feelings. Without accusation, these girls expressed specifically how their feelings had been hurt.
  • Seeing the other’s perspective. What an enlightening exercise to ask a friend, “How have I hurt you?”
  • Seeking Forgiveness. These girls realized that part of the conflict was their fault and asked the other to forgive them for specific offenses.

With great relief (for all of us!), these girls bounced off giggling, ready to jump back into a really wonderful friendship. I’m certain we will have numerous opportunities to continue practicing conflict resolution. And I’m grateful for these little moments to learn and grow alongside my kids.

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Julie is a Midwest girl who moved to Colorado Springs as a newlywed in search of adventure. Over 16 years later, Julie and her husband Noah can’t imagine living anywhere else! Three creative and energetic daughters – Avary (10), Evelyn (8), and Piper (6) – know how to bring the fun…and the drama! An infant son – Everett – brings joy and a growing sense of boyhood charm. As a surprised-to-be-homeschooling mom, Julie’s days are filled with opportunities to nurture little souls, making lots of mistakes, learning how to ask for forgiveness, and finding opportunities to bless others. As a part-time grant writer for a local non-profit, Julie loves contributing to community efforts focused on serving our Colorado Springs neighbors in need. When blessed with a bit of free time, you can find Julie exploring one of our city’s beautiful hiking trails, swinging kettlebells, making a list for tomorrow (let’s be honest!), engaged in a heart-to-heart with a girlfriend, or enjoying conversation with her very kind husband.