This is a post from Mandy Pagano of Suburban Stereotype
“How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along!” Psalm 133:1
It’s officially summer time!
For us, that means lots of neighbor friends home from school all day long.
It means afternoons of playing, popsicles, fun with the hose, and evenings chasing fireflies.
It also means a lot more time with friends when disagreements, teasing, and tattling take place. And all of the above means I play the part of referee more than I care to.
This summer (already!) has proven to be a little more challenging when it comes to navigating the tricky world of adolescent friendships.
While we live in a great neighborhood surrounded by fantastic neighbors, conflict among our kids who spend a great deal of time together is bound to arise.
This summer we’ve seen an increase in rifts within this group, whether from a difference of opinion or changing hormones that are seeing a first “crush” bloom in our midst.
I have encountered situations where my kids were not playing nicely and also when they were being the recipients of someone not playing nicely. Both situations are stressful.
For the first couple of weeks, I handled these conflicts in ways that I am not particularly proud of and in ways that I don’t believe were very productive.
In the instances of my kids being unkind, I was angry and disappointed in them. During the times when they were treated unfairly, my Mama Bear instincts kicked in and I was indignant for them. I have come to the conclusion that neither of these reactions were completely right.
When I witness (or am told about) my children not playing nicely or being mean, I definitely need to address it and I need to be firm in backing up what I say to them with scripture. There are some key verses in the Bible I use to teach my kids about loving others and being kind as well as treating others how they would want to be treated and not necessarily the way someone is treating them (Proverbs 18:21, Psalm 133:1, Matthew 5:9).
I talk with them about why they were feeling angry or upset and how they could have responded differently. I ask them how they would feel if they were the ones being treated poorly and we talk about caring for others’ feelings. Our conversation usually ends with us talking about Jesus’ love for all of us being so strong that even though He was treated very badly and killed, He still asked God to forgive all of us.
When I have to deal with someone being unkind or flat-out mean to my kids, I am learning that while having a “Mama Bear” reaction inwardly is okay, and the way I am wired as a nurturer, how I react outwardly is hugely important. I have to stop myself from saying anything off the cuff in regard to the “incident” because my kids take that to heart, and that can adversely affect how they see and treat others. It is so easy to become frustrated when it seems a child is purposely being mean to your child(ren), but if I want to teach my kids about loving others, even when others are not as loving in return, I have to start by being a living example.
“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2
Full disclosure: I need a lot of work in this area. I am quick on response and slow on patience. It was while I was thinking about some situations we are experiencing within our friend group that I realized a few things:
- My kids and their friends are just kids. I know this shouldn’t be earth-shattering, breaking news, but I often forget that they are learning as they go in life. While I may be a little better at maintaining control when someone upsets me, I have had 30+ years longer to hone that skill than they have. Part of training my children is addressing and revisiting areas where they need improvement– sometimes many, many times. And if I’m being completely transparent here, I still struggle with my own reactions in certain situations.
- How I respond to the situation sets the tone for how they will respond. My getting angry with a 10 year-old (and showing that anger) does nothing to teach my children of love, grace, mercy and forgiveness. I am the thermostat for my children’s reactions many times, and I need to be aware of that in my tone of voice, voice inflection, facial expressions, and body language. I have caught myself many times letting the hair on the back of my neck stand tall while wearing a scowl on my face over a perceived wrong “perpetrated” against my child. Carrying myself in that posture only makes the situation worse and, truthfully, the children at odds this minute very often run off together to play again five minutes later.
- Not every incident requires my interference. Granted, any time there is a physical altercation, I step in, but often when it is an argument or even teasing, I can usually handle the situation on the sidelines without speaking directly to the other child(ren) or their parents. A very hard lesson for me has been in realizing I am to train my children and coach them through making tough decisions as they mature. Hearing another child say “You’re a jerk and I’m not going to let you play with my toy!” is heart-breaking for me, but I will serve my son and myself better if I speak to him privately about it, offering alternatives for how to handle the situation himself, than if I step in immediately and speak to the other child directly. Teaching my children to handle themselves in conflict can only benefit them.
- Sometimes the best course of action is to remove my children from the equation. If we are having trouble playing nicely together, I am learning to simply refrain from playing with those children for a while. It gives everyone time to refresh and play with others and also allows absence to make their “hearts grow fonder.” This doesn’t have to be permanent nor does it have to be done in a way that seems negative. Sometimes, especially during the summer months when a lot more time is spent together, too much interaction can stir up frustrations easily.
- I need to remember that I bickered and argued with my friends as a kid. It isn’t the end of the world and I turned out fine. Conflict is a part of human nature. We can either seal ourselves in a bubble to avoid it or we can give our children the tools to deal with it in a way that glorifies God and shows respect to all parties involved.
- Having an open line of communication and knowing my neighbors is a great way to handle those conflicts that do require my/their participation. I have had conversations and text messages with my neighbors in regard to our children’s squabbles. I like to keep those lines of communication open so that there are no surprises or misrepresentations of anything that was said during a conflict. I also like to hear the other side of the story so that I can address any areas with my children where they are contributing to the conflict.
- I am realizing that God truly has this in His hands and I need to take my concerns to Him before reacting or speaking to my child or a parent and their child.
In order to teach my children to be living examples of God’s love and mercy, I need to be a living example for them. I am finding that things I may not even realize make an impression (the way I speak to the cashier who annoys me or the guy who cuts me off in traffic and how I treat my husband when we have an argument, for example) all play a part in defining how they respond in stressful situations when faced with conflict.
We are working through this together and learning as we go. I’m learning that only when I am a living example for our children can I teach them how to be living examples when addressing conflict. It takes prayer, consistency, and discipline on everyone’s part to love like Jesus did. I’d love to hear from you! What are some ways you have handled conflict among your children and their friends?