Do you HIDE from CONFLICT? Does the thought of confrontation make you want to run away and never come back? Once you master these 5 MASSIVELY IMPORTANT life lessons about conflict & confrontation, you’ll never have to hide again — and you’ll be able to teach these lessons to your kids, too!
Confrontation doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, I would argue, confronting issues when they arise is one of the biggest ways we can grow in our relationships!
Let’s think about it in parenting terms: when our kids do something wrong that hurts our feelings – or a friend’s feelings – we correct them. We address the hurts, explain why it didn’t feel good, how to heal the relationship (apologize), and they learn to do better next time.
Why should confronting OUR peers be any different? When we confront in love, with a true desire to understand, it makes a HUGE difference in our communication and in our relationships.
My husband and I recently started helping out with the college & career family group at our church and host many of them in our home each Sunday night for dinner. It’s been a huge blessing for us to be surrounded by college students again. (I didn’t realize how much I missed them!) But one theme has been HUGE in the conversations we’ve had over the past month: conflict.
Remember back when I wrote about the 10 Life Lessons every parent should teach their child before sending them off to college? One of the big ones (#4, in fact) was to help our children learn to handle conflict and confrontation constructively.
But, how do we actually TEACH confrontation? How do we SHOW them how to handle conflict well?
Heads up: This post is a LONG one — even for me! If you don’t have time to read it right now, be sure to save it to Pinterest or download this FREE PDF of the content, so you can read it later. These lessons are too important to miss!
Let’s start with the basics:
Conflict & Confrontation Lesson #1: Address issues right away.
Even small issues need to be addressed immediately. Don’t wait until the molehill becomes a mountain! So many of the roommate separations I had to facilitate as an RD were simply because they had waited SO long to bring up their frustrations with anyone that they were each fed up and unwilling to even attempt reconciliation.
No matter how small the grievance, ALWAYS bring it up right away. Don’t let it fester and become such an aggravation that the only solution is a complete severing of the relationship.
If you had a cut on your leg, you would clean it out and take care of it, wouldn’t you? If you let it go untended, it could get infected. And if you chose to ignore the infection, gangrene could set in and you’d risk having to amputate your leg.
Wounds in our relationships are exactly the same way. Tiny issues can quickly escalate into big issues when left unaddressed, and once problems get to that level, they are nearly impossible to fix without permanent damage.
Encourage your kids to speak up if something is bothering them. Whether it’s a big issue or little annoyance, they need to know it’s OKAY to say something to someone who has hurt their feelings or acted inappropriately.
Conflict & Confrontation Lesson #2: View confrontation as a positive step.
Another problem many of my students faced when dealing with conflict was that, in their minds, confrontation meant they were complaining, complicating the relationship, or ruining it all together. Confrontation was a horrible thing to be avoided at all costs.
Unfortunately, just because we choose to avoid the needed confrontation, doesn’t mean the issue is just going to go away. (See Conflict Lesson #1!)
Instead, we need to help our kids to understand that the only way to really understand WHY the issue is persisting is to bring it up. Having a confrontation with someone simply means you are bringing an issue to light where you can both see the problem, explain your point of view, and seek to understand the other person.
Confrontation doesn’t necessarily mean you’re mad or threatening to leave the relationship. It’s not an argument. In fact, when we confront issues immediately, it can be a preventative step to SAVE the relationship!
Are you not sure HOW to confront? Keep reading for some great tips, and snag your FREE Conquering Conflict Resource Guide! I walk you through my top 4 relationship tools to help you understand those with whom you are experiencing conflict, and show you how we are able to use them in our relationships. Having a full relational toolbox relieves SO MUCH of the stress of relationships. With these resources, you will ALWAYS have a tool you can pull out to help you navigate the situation!
Conflict & Confrontation Lesson #3: Seek to understand by asking good questions.
A HUGE part of constructive confrontation is learning to ask good questions that reveal the true root of the issue. We have all grown up in different families with different cultures and rules, so when we go out into the world, we ACT and INTERACT differently.
One day, I took Mini-Me to the park. While we were there, she ran into a couple of slightly older boys who were shoving, pushing, and generally acting ugly to the other kids on the playground. Mini-Me was completely confused by how they were acting, and she wasn’t having much fun as a result.
As we were packing up to leave the park, she asked me WHY those boys were acting so ugly. “I don’t know, baby. Why do YOU think they weren’t acting very nice?” I replied.
“Maybe they don’t know how to act nice. Maybe they have brothers or sisters who are mean to them. Do you think their mommies and daddies are nice to them, Momma?”
Pretty insightful for a 4-year-old!
The challenge now, as her mom, is to encourage her to ask those questions of the person with whom she is in conflict. As we process conflict at home, I always remind her to ask those questions of the person with whom she is having conflict. After years of those reminders, I look forward to the day she feels empowered to ask good questions when conflict arises.
Examples of Good Questions:
- How do you…?
- Tell me about a time you…
- What was it like for you when…
Open-ended questions, like the ones above, allow the other person space to tell a bit of their story and explain their point of view. These types of questions invite conversation, understanding, and a foundation for positive collaboration to solve the problem.
Any questions that promote conversation will lend great insight into what’s really going on with the other person and WHY they’re acting the way they are.
However, there are definitely questions that will NOT help your efforts to understand the other person…
Questions to Avoid:
- Why do you do it that way?
- Why do you ALWAYS/NEVER…?
- Do you…?
Why questions immediately put the other person on the defensive by asking them to give the rationale for WHY they do things the way they do. In theory, yes, you DO want to understand the why behind their action, but we need to ask the question in a way that keeps communication open instead of shutting it down.
In the same vein, questions that include the words ALWAYS or NEVER shut down communication by generalizing the problem instead of dealing with the specific action or circumstance that is problematic. While it may feel to you that they ALWAYS do something, very few of us ALWAYS do anything. How we respond changes with the situation. By avoiding ALWAYS and NEVER statements, we give the other person the benefit of the doubt and focus on the specific instance at hand.
Closed-ended questions, such as “do you…,” tend to only garner one-word answers: yes or no. If the other person is particularly open or chatty, you may still get some good information from these questions. But, to keep communication flowing, open-ended questions are the better way to go.
Understanding HOW to ask good, communication-promoting questions is a HUGELY beneficial skill to teach our children, and we can start by asking THEM those good questions. We learn by what we experience in the home (and elsewhere), so let’s make sure we’re making the most of our time with our kids by asking THEM good questions and demonstrating the power of open communication!
Conflict & Confrontation Lesson #4: Use “I” statements.
Part of handling conflict productively is to express how *I* am feeling, not what YOU are doing wrong. When we start sentences with YOU, it tends to put the other person on the defensive — just like those WHY questions above — and breaks down any chance of effective communication.
However, if we start sentences with “I,” all we’re doing is explaining our own position, not casting blame. We can teach our kids to say things such as “I feel angry when you take my toys without asking” or “I feel sad when you say I can’t play with you.”
Bonus tip: Include descriptive EMOTION words.
As kids get older, they can process more complex emotions, so it’s important to help them name what they’re feeling in those “I” statements. Instead of using simple emotions such as happy, mad, or sad, like we would with young children, we can push older kids to identify deeper emotions.
Here are a few different emotions to help them think about when issues arise:
These are BIG emotions, but by the time they reach high school and college, having the language to express those emotions will be immensely helpful for their communication and conflict resolution toolkits.
Conflict & Confrontation Lesson #5: Bring in a 3rd person.
Notice this point is NOT first. It’s important to learn to address conflict 1-on-1 FIRST, and THEN bring in an impartial third party if needed.
It used to be that parents would teach kids not to tattle, but now, we tend to encourage our kids to bring their issues straight to us. Coming right to a parent is important when it’s a safety issue, but we also need to teach our kids when it’s okay to try to handle the issue themselves BEFORE asking us to get involved.
Specifically, we need to teach them that, for NON-SAFETY-RELATED issues, it is appropriate to involve a third party ONLY AFTER they have already tried to resolve the issue 1-on-1 with the other person.
It’s a very biblical concept:
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
~ Matthew 18:15-17 ~
To help us understand how to walk our kids through this process, let’s take a closer look at each of the steps covered in these three verses.
The 3 Steps to Biblical Conflict & Confrontation
1) Talk to the person 1-on-1.
This step is crucial to successful conflict resolution. As we talked about above, going directly to the person with whom we are experiencing conflict gives us the opportunity to understand where the other person is coming from and resolve this issue quickly and easily. (Hopefully!)
2) Bring in a third person.
If talking with the other person 1-on-1 is not helpful — if they do not respond well to the conversation or refuse to accept responsibility for their part in the conflict — we are told to bring in one or two more people to mediate the conflict and act as a witness.
The goal of this third person is to keep both parties focused on the ISSUE, not personal differences, and to encourage them to be honest with each other. Blaming each other and attacking the other person’s character is not going to improve the situation or the relationship. Likewise, brushing small things under the rug or refusing to talk it out is not going to help anyone, either.
Especially when emotions are running high, having an impartial third party involved is almost always beneficial. When we’re upset, we don’t always communicate clearly or effectively. Think about the last fight you had with your spouse. Were YOU using the clearest, communication-promoting language you could? Or was emotion driving your language?
It takes a LOT of practice to communicate effectively, even when we’re NOT stressed and upset. There are definitely times we need that third party to steer the conversation onto a productive path.
3) Bring the issue before the governing body.
If we’ve gone through mediation with an impartial third party, but the person with whom we are having conflict is STILL refusing to work toward a mutually-beneficial solution or to correct inappropriate behavior, we are then told to bring the issue before the governing body.
Depending on who is involved in the conflict, that “governing body” could be the church or youth group, the college ResLife staff or Judicial Board, the school board or administration, or even simply the parents or extended family of those involved. In extreme situations, it may mean involving the police or other branches of the legal system to help the offending individual realize the seriousness of the issue.
If the issue still cannot be resolved and the other person is completely unwilling to deal with the situation or work to resolve the conflict, then we are permitted to move on to a fourth step.
Last Resort: Distance yourself in the relationship and move on.
If the person refuses to listen to correction or deal with the issue at hand, it is perfectly permissible to put distance into the relationship and remove ourselves from a bad situation. Those who are unwilling to work out the issues between us should not be in our immediate sphere of influence and support, as the trust between us had been eroded by the unresolved conflict.
Note, however, that this step is NOT a license to treat the person poorly! Treating him “as you would a pagan or a tax collector” simply means to treat him as one who does not know God and doesn’t understand or want to follow His rules — to treat him as one who doesn’t know any better.
So, how are we supposed to treat unbelievers? With respect, love, and in such a way that they will see God alive in us. In fact, Peter urges us to “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12)
I realize this post contains a LOT of information to digest and then work on teaching to our kids, so remember: I’ve created a FREE PDF of the content here for you to download and save for future reference.
Also, have grace with yourself as you work on these confrontation lessons with your kiddos – and improve your skills yourself! Communication, conflict, & confrontation are all skill sets that it takes TIME to learn. Don’t be surprised if neither of you gets it right away. Just keep practicing!
Because I know how hard these skills can be at first, I’ve created a FREE Conquering Conflict Guide with EXTRA tips on how to use Personality types and other tools to make confrontation and communication even MORE effective!
If you or your child are struggling with confrontation and conflict, you NEED the resources we cover in this guide. They will make your life SO MUCH EASIER!
Just click the button below to snag your FREE guide right now!