by Ken Sande
Whoever first said raising children is a challenge should be inducted into the Understatement Hall of Fame. True, children offer their parents continuous—and bountiful—blessing. They can be the picture of innocence, little independent units of humanity with bright, sparkling eyes and completely candid emotions. And when brought up to trust and love their Lord, they gladden many a parental heart.
But they, like the rest of us, were born into sin. And, as sinners, their hearts and minds are naturally inclined toward evil. This fact has a profound effect on how we raise our children. For the truth is, we must, with God's help, teach our children to respect others, live with others, and most importantly, love others. If they are to live lives pleasing to God, they will need education in how to get along with their siblings and friends. And to do this, they must know how to properly resolve conflicts even among themselves.
In short, they must be taught peacemaking.
Peacemaking springs from faith
Because of our sinful nature, we do not put our opponents' interests on the same level as our own, nor do we naturally seek resolutions to conflicts that benefit both parties. Our children are inclined to follow the sinful, selfish desires of their hearts that lead so often to conflict. This "me first" inclination is fed through a daily media barrage that exalts doing whatever it takes to get your own way. How can we stand against this tide and help our children to develop the character of a peacemaker?
To begin with, we must remember that the most important requirement of peacemaking is to understand who we are in Jesus Christ. Before the apostle Paul tells the Colossians what they should do, he reminds them of who they are: "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" (Colossians 3:12, emphasis added).
A true peacemaker is guided, motivated, and empowered by his or her identity in Christ. This identity is based on faith in the most amazing promise we could ever hear: God has forgiven us all our sins and made peace with us through the death and resurrection of His Son (Romans 6:23; 1 Peter 3:18). And He has given us the freedom and power to turn from sin (and conflict), to be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Ephesians 1:18-20; Romans 8:28-29), and to be His ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:16-20).
It is the realization of who we are in Christ that enables us to do the unnatural work of dying to self, confessing sin, confronting in love, laying down rights, and forgiving deep hurts. Therefore, as you teach your children to be peacemakers, continually remind them to rejoice in who they are in Christ (forgiven and redeemed!), in what He has done, and in promises to keep doing in and through them (see Philippians 4:4; 1:6).
Always minister to your child's heart
The second requirement of teaching children to be peacemakers is to help them understand the root cause of their conflicts. James 4:1 provides a vital diagnostic tool: "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?"
Some of the desires that fuel our children's conflicts are clearly sinful, like pride, selfishness, jealousy, greed, or sibling rivalry. However, many of their conflicts will be generated by good desires elevated to sinful demands.
For example, there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to have a cookie or to watch a video. But if a child becomes resentful, sullen, or angry when not getting what he or she wants, it is evident that a worldly desire has taken control of his or her heart. In biblical terms, the desire has become a functional god or idol that is temporarily ruling that child's life.
Thus conflict becomes an X-ray of our children's heart. When others stand in the way of their desires and they quarrel and fight, their sinful desires are exposed. This gives us as parents an excellent opportunity to help our children break free from worldly desires.
But instead of beating them down with condemnation, we should pray for them and use questions, instruction, and gentle confrontation to help them see that something other than God is controlling their hearts and lives. At the same time, we should remind them of the forgiveness and freedom that God offers them through the gospel.
The goal of this part of the conversation is for the child to confess and renounce his or her sin. Once the confession has been made, the emphasis should be Jesus' forgiveness of that sin and His help in allowing the child to get along with his or her sibling. Jesus offers both forgiveness for the sin and the freedom to avoid fighting in the future.
This will not be a one-time process. The same controlling desires will beset our children's hearts and cause conflicts again and again, as they do ours. But as we repeatedly pray for them and guide them to examine their hearts, renounce their sin, and ask God for forgiveness and grace to change, they can experience a growing freedom from sin and deliverance form conflict (Romans 7:24-25).
The third requirement for learning to be a peacemaker is deliberate, systematic instruction. In Deuteronomy 6:7-9, God tells us to fight ignorance with diligent instruction: "Impress [God's commandments] on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates." This passage indicates that we should weave spiritual instruction, including peacemaking, into every aspect of daily life.
First, remember that your example is a great teacher. After speaking to Christian parents at a conference, I was approached by a woman who was desperately seeking help on how to teach her children to deal with conflict in a constructive manner. I asked her a question she didn't expect: "How do you and your husband deal with conflict?"
Tears welled up in her eyes and she hung her head in shame, "Oh, we're so awful," she said. "We deny problems for a long time, and then things explode in a big argument. We talk and yell, but we never come to any real solutions. My greatest fear is that our children will grow up to be just like us."
I gently reminded her of a key principle of peacemaking: It's never too late to start doing what is right. Then I began to encourage her on how she and her husband could work together to turn things around in their family, especially by setting a better example of peacemaking themselves (see 1 Timothy 4:12, 15; 1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Peter 2:21). Regardless of what you say to your children, most of what they learn about getting along with other people will come from what they see you do.
Second, make use of the conflicts of daily life. Most families encounter conflict repeatedly every day. Kids find issues to fight over, whether it's who gets the last cookie or whose piece of toast has more butter on it. That's the bad news. The good new is: Every one of these incidents offers a rich opportunity to help your children face their selfish desires and practice the basic principles of peacemaking.
On those wonderful (if rare) days when your family is living in peace, you can still find conflicts to discuss. Most stories and books your children read will involve conflict. The same is true of every television program and movie they watch.
Practice, practice, practice
The fourth requirement for teaching children to be peacemakers is to provide them with a variety of appropriate social interactions so they can practice getting along with others in the midst of struggles and conflicts (see James 1:3-4; Romans 5:3-4; Hebrews 5:14). This does not mean constantly surrounding your child with crowds of other kids. In fact, Scripture and experience both teach us that indiscriminate interaction with other people, especially at a young age, tends to aggravate bad habits, prolong immaturity, and result in grief (see Proverbs 1:8-33; 5:1-14; 1 Corinthians 15:33).
What it means is that you should arrange for your children to interact with a variety of people—suitable to their age and maturity—who will occasionally give them opportunities to experience conflict and practice peacemaking. This is an essential step in bringing children to maturity. By facing the sin in their hearts and working through conflict under their parents' guidance, they will be better prepared to deal responsibly with the conflicts they will inevitably face as they grow up and leave home.
Such situations abound, especially if we take advantage of opportunities to relate to people of all ages and stages in life. Church, sports, and artistic activities provide a good start. School activities, educational co-ops, and field trips allow further opportunities for social interaction.
It is worth the effort
Teaching children to be peacemakers is one of the most challenging responsibilities of being a parent. It requires faith and reliance on God, ministry to our children's hearts, systematic instruction, and careful guidance of their social involvement.
What a privilege it is for parents to participate in this process! May we be faithful to this call by consistently teaching and modeling Biblical peacemaking in every aspect of our homes and lives.
From Peacemaking for Families
by Ken Sande, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House. Copyright © 2002 by Peacemaker® Ministries. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used with permission. This excerpt may not be reprinted or forwarded for any other use without the advance, written permission of Focus on the Family.
FamilyLife is a donor-supported ministry offering practical and biblical resources and events to help you build a godly marriage and family.