One morning, while I was dressing the baby, my son Brennan came bouncing into the nursery and announced, "Mom, Cal just said poop!"
I turned to Brennan. "And?"
Brennan looked surprised that I didn't know why this was important information. "Aaannnd . . . Cal isn't allowed to say poop," he replied. "I wanted you to know."
"Brennan, are you being a peacemaker, or are you trying to get Cal in trouble?"
Brennan was quiet for a moment. "Trying to get Cal in trouble," he said. "Sorry."
"Please apologize to Cal for tattling," I said. "Then think about how you can encourage your brother to make good choices."
Long ago, Jesus taught, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9). That teaching, found in a longer discussion on how believers are to reflect God's truth and love, has resonated with my husband and me as we raise our three boys.
Normally, the word peaceful isn't one I would use to describe our home. But we're trying to help our boys understand how they can become peacemakers. We tell them that peacemakers are not fueled by arguing, getting even or trying to get others in trouble. Peacemakers pursue harmony, striving to do what is good for others.
How can we raise our children to be peacemakers? Scripture points to two key principles: Recognize that God gives our children the ability to live in harmony with each other, and understand that He gives them the skills and independence to work through the inevitable conflicts by themselves.
Harmony: shining like stars
When teaching our kids to be peacemakers, it's important to remember what we read in Philippians 2:13-16 (NIV) because it reminds us that it is ultimately God (not us!) who works in our children to help them avoid grumbling and complaining — to "shine like stars" in a dark and sinful world.
As we teach our boys about peacemaking, we start with this message: "Boys, you are God's gift to each other. You may not always see each other as gifts, but it's true. God intends for you to build each other up in His love. He has made our family a team, so we must follow God's leading to function as one. As teammates, we really do want to help each other be better."
To further encourage harmony, we must also help our kids reflect on their own heart attitudes when it is the source of disharmony. Often, a child's behavior is motivated purely by a desire to see a sibling get taken down a notch. A child is essentially saying, "Yay, I'm the good person; he's the bad person." When pride and self-righteousness rear their ugly heads, we can help our kids recognize their own sin in their effort to point out another's (Matthew 7:3-5).
Peacemakers are problem solvers
One of our goals is to help our kids develop strong problem-solving skills for Godly living (Matthew 18:15). Interestingly, studies show that conflict between siblings is significantly reduced when kids have been raised to understand basic problem-solving skills.
Teaching your children to be peacemaking problem solvers can be intense, but be assured that the peace in your home will be well worth the hard work. I love seeing the thrill on my boys' faces when they successfully solve a problem they were having with each other. It's the look that says, Hey, I can do this! They also deepen their friendship with and trust of each other.
To help my kids learn peacemaking, I generally start with a series of leading questions:
Did you try to solve the problem yourself?
The goal here is to have my boys think about what a peacemaker would do, to consider all their options. And if they haven't tried to solve a conflict on their own, I give them a chance to do so before involving me.
Not long ago, my son Owen came to tell me some important news: "Mom, Brennan is watching a show on TV that we aren't allowed to watch."
"Did you try to solve the problem with Brennan first?" I asked.
"So what could you do now?"
"I could tell Brennan that we aren't allowed to watch this show."
"Good idea. Encourage Brennan to make good choices. If he doesn't listen, you may ask for my help. Be a good friend and help him make good choices."
What is the problem, and how do you feel?
If the kids are not successful at solving their problem without me, I walk them through a basic problem-solving process. Yes, they need direction and guidance with this approach but, with a little practice and persistence, they often work things out by themselves.
I ask both children to state what happened by identifying the problem or incident that occurred as well as the feeling that resulted. I also ask them to start their sentences with "I" because then they cannot start by pointing the finger. This allows them to identify the role that they played in the situation and how they contributed to the problem.
How can you solve the problem?
Once both children have heard the other's version of the problem and the feelings that resulted, I ask both children to think about what a peacemaker would do. Based on the solutions they come up with, I've learned that the stated problem is rarely the real problem. Rather, the problem was sparked by a selfish attitude, a desire to simply see a sibling get in trouble, or a feeling of being wronged by the other person. This provides a precious opportunity to encourage my kids to think about what's going on in their hearts. Indeed, the solutions that we choose for peaceful resolutions should always address the heart first.
How would you like to be treated?
Seeking a peaceful resolution often involves reminding the boys to treat one another as they would want to be treated (Matthew 7:12). I may ask, "Cal, how do you feel when Brennan yells at you when you do something he doesn't like? Is there a better way you could have communicated your frustration with him?"
Throughout this guided process, we equip our kids with the essential skills of compromise, teamwork and empathy, skills they can implement in future problems with others. They will begin to see that those who promote God's peace reflect His character. And more important, they will learn that the true source of our peace is found in fellowship with Jesus.
Jeannie Cunnion is the author of Parenting the Wholehearted Child: Captivating your child's heart with God's extravagant grace.