This week, Pastor Mark preached about how Jesus reconciles us. In this post, Deacon Trisha Wilkerson writes about how to apply that message to parenting.
Our children are ages 10, 8, 7, and 5. We’re noticing the days of meeting their constant physical needs as toddlers has morphed into what seems like sun-up to sun-down conflict. From intense tears and fighting to reconciliation and laughing, our family (i.e. our six-member Community Group) is full of sinners, who are wealthy with grace.
I have noticed some ways my kids respond to the gospel through their conflicts. Like in community, we are invited to represent Jesus to one another, through the happy and hard parts of our lives.
Whether they are resisting us the parents, or embroiled in battle with one other, my husband and I are called to love our children, be self-controlled and tenderhearted, and above all continually lead them to Jesus—who will always love them perfectly.
Walking through conflict should feel warm and loving, not harsh and cold. Here are 11 tips to keep in mind.
1. Get Down on Their Level
Yes—squat down or sit on your knees and look in those precious eyes. When they are talking with you, they can feel more respected if you stop what you are doing and listen. As they experience you caring deeply about what they have to say, you are building their trust. The security is sweet, when they know that their mommy or daddy legitimizes their experiences and feelings by providing loving attention.
2. Watch for Emotions
Tears usually tell us that the heart is troubled. Behind tears is some degree of pain. Be compassionate and wait on getting the details of the conflict (you’ll get to that in a minute). They may need some space to process their emotions, but if they come close to you, be quick to respond with a comforting hug. Comfort first, reassure them that you love them.
3. Don’t Make Assumptions
You know your kids well and sometimes it seems obvious who’s guilty. But wait and find out. Don’t give shaming, disapproving looks, especially before you know the details of the conflict. Your posture can be firm and serious but still communicate warmth and acceptance.
4. Pray for the Holy Spirit’s Help
So often, as I go respond to a scream, shout, or slammed door, I am praying under my breath for patience and help. As I discover who is fighting with whom, I have to drop what I am doing and submit my heart to Jesus so I can tenderly counsel my kids. And throughout the conversation, I need to pray for wisdom. God is paying attention to us parents and wants to help us love our kids—after all, they’re his kids first.
5. Ask Questions
Gather the details, but don’t drag it out. This information helps you discern what the discipline needs to be and the deeper heart issues with each child involved. You aren’t a detective solving a case; you are shepherd of sheep. Know the story so that you can lead them to Jesus.
6. Gently Confront Sin
Still on their level, your addressing their sin might sound like: “Sounds like you were being selfish when you knew your brother wanted the swing and you ran to get it before him. Is that right?” “Were you obeying quickly, or were you thinking your plan was better than your mom’s?” “Your sister didn’t feel loved when you used your body (and pushed her) instead of kindly using words to tell her to get out of your room,” “Did you know lying to Mommy is a sin, buddy?”
7. Don’t Label Your Child
In the midst of heated conversation, everyone is tempted to call the kid who lied “a liar.” Labels like “thief,” “selfish,” “bully,” etc. are false identities. We want to fill their hearts up truths that reflect Christ’s gospel (loved, forgiven, pure, accepted, justified)—and not sinful labels.
8. Personalize the Gospel for That Sin
Consider this first: have you have seen the fruit of saving faith in your child’s heart? Whether he or she is already a believer in Christ or not, this is an opportunity for you, as a shepherd of his/her heart, to share Christ. The gospel is relevant for every conflict. Our family community doesn’t just know and recite truth—we need to live out the truth of Jesus’ death in our place and his resurrection, especially when we experience pain and conflict. As shepherds, we get to point our kids to Jesus, both for their need for grace and for extending grace to one another. Calmly invite your children to acknowledge their sin against God and whomever they wronged. For the victim in the conflict, remind them of Jesus’ suffering and how near he is to comfort us. Remind both that while God is holy and all-powerful, he is also close and loves them.
9. Watch for Worldly Sorrow vs. Godly Sorrow
Is your child sorry because someone is upset or because they are anxious about any upcoming discipline? That’s worldly sorrow, and it isn’t repentance, although it can look like it because it expresses sadness. While this is human and a natural to experience the cause and effect of sin, Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 7:10, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” Godly sorrow is true brokenness over sin against God, believing that sin separates from Jesus. Don’t expect your child’s articulation of this to be precise, but trust this heart process to God. If you don’t see godly sorrow over sin, you can continue praying for that. If you do, remember that repentance is a work of the Holy Spirit—you’ve just witnessed miraculous heart transformation!
10. Lead Them in Reconciliation with One Another and Jesus
If/when they’ve acknowledged their sin and are sorrowful for it, remind them, “We need to talk to Jesus and your brother about this.” It’s helpful to hold their hand if they are still feeling heartbroken, reassuring them that God is with them. Facilitate asking for and granting forgiveness. Don’t force the hugs as long as you see tender hearts loving each other. The goal is restored relationships and growing hearts that are aware of their need for Jesus.
11. Celebrate Grace and Forgiveness
Don’t make it all about sin and conflict. The reason we address sin is to get to Jesus. Godly sorrow leads to repentance, and repentance always leads to forgiveness by the grace of God. It is a temptation for us to linger too long on the sin, in an effort to make sure we see it. As much as we want to see repentance, we should desire to see celebration for the amazing grace that has been given. Celebrate Christ’s love with your children! These times are glorious gifts. By far, my most favorite moments as a momma come from conflict, tear-streaked faces and hugging as my child says, “Thank you, Jesus, I am forgiven!”
Christ’s gospel gives life. Conflict is an opportunity to lovingly invite our children to experience the grace that Jesus gives. Taking the time to counsel our kids in conflicts is a huge way that we can, as shepherds lead our kids to Jesus, the great Shepherd.
Trisha Wilkerson is a deacon at the Ballard church.