Tuesday, January 8, 2019

What Do We Teach Kids About Handling Conflict?

A lot of kids are taught that getting an adult during conflict, is tattling.  It is very common for parents to require children to solve problems among themselves.  This method doesn’t lead to positive conflict resolution skills; it leads to the opposite.  When children are left to themselves to stop a conflict and the other child won’t stop, or share, or cooperate, violence and retaliation are really the only option they have.  Older siblings and bigger kids have a lot of power and they don’t know how to use their power in a benevolent way.  They are self-centered and haven’t learned how to use their power for good yet.  When kids are left to fight it out, the youngest ones can be subjected to emotional and physical abuse.  They learn that there is no such thing as justice, and that violence and retaliation are their only option.  The youngest also learn that they are not valuable enough for even their parents to care when they are being treated unfairly and even abused.  And the older kids learn to practice the abuse of power over the weak. 

An alternative to this would be to help kids learn to utilize authority as a resource.  When our kids were young we always had the 3 steps of “how to stop a fight”, posted on our wall.  The first step was: If someone is doing something you don’t like, tell them to “stop” in a nice voice.  Or, if the fight is about a toy or game, agree on a way to take turns.  Set a timer and do rock-paper-scissors to see who goes first.  The second step was: If they don’t listen, tell them that if they do it again you will have to get an adult.  The third step was: If they still don’t listen, get an adult.
When adults get involved it is not for the purpose of finding out who “started it” and to punish them.  The role of the adult is to remind the children of the tools like rock, paper, scissors, and the timer, and to ensure that everyone is treated with value and respect.  The adult teaches and enforces the biblical principles of #1 we respect and honor others because they are made in the image of God, #2 we don’t repay evil with evil because evil does not defeat evil it perpetuates it, #3 always confront in love, and #4 that they deserve to be protected because they are valuable.  Children need to be taught these principles on an ongoing basis because they aren’t born with this knowledge, they need repeated instruction. The way that children learn to treat other people, how they allow themselves to be treated, and how they handle disputes at home, will go with them into relationships at school.
One of our roles as parents is protector.  God has put authority in place to protect us and enforce the laws (Rom.13), we need to model this order at home.  A healthy view of authority is that authority is good and can be called upon to enforce justice. Children should be learning that they can turn to authority for justice rather than getting revenge. If a child genuinely needs help, he needs to be able to get it.  Children need to know that it is not weak to refuse to hit someone, it is strong to manage our anger and appeal to the proper channels of authority rather than solving a problem through violence.

When children are taught that parents are not interested in helping them with their problems, they find their own means for survival. They learn to only interact with their peers, and exclude the adult world, because adults are believed to be unavailable, unhelpful, unjust, and unconcerned. They don’t go to teachers when someone is picking on them, and this either results in them being severely abused by others or it results in built up anger which, as we have seen, can result in violence as gruesome as school shootings. 

recently I was taking a class and the school principal that was teaching the class said that when he sits down with jr. highers that got into fights at school and asks them why, they say “I just couldn’t take it anymore,” and when he asks why they didn’t tell anyone that they were being picked on, they say “I didn’t want to be a snitch”.

This is a letter sent recently from the superintendent of Bethel schools to all Bethel staff:

For the safety of our students, we need to foster and nurture a culture where students feel safe to come to an adult and talk about threats, or students that are having difficulty coping, etc. This is what a "caring culture" nurtures.  The old concept of seeing students that ask for help as "tattle-tales" or "snitches," must be replaced by compassionate concern.  Developing a culture where it’s OK to ask for help is essential. We are all in this together, we are not an island onto ourselves.

And that's a good word for all of us to remember!