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Conflict

Facing Each Other With Love

Summary
When we address conflict directly and work through it, we strengthen our bonds to each other.

[Download a printable PDF version of this lesson.]

[Hear the podcast episode: Apple | Spotify]

Table of Contents

Preparation Guide (Optional)

Parent Devotional

Use these questions for personal reflection or journaling.

  • What was conflict like in your family growing up? In what ways was conflict healthy or unhealthy? How have you continued similar patterns in your home now?
  • Where and when is conflict most likely to arise in your home? Do you notice any recurring themes?
  • In your family, is conflict mostly open and acknowledged or tempered and avoided? Does it feel balanced?
  • Are there ways you’d like to change how you are in conflict? What is one thing you can do differently to be more skillful during conflict?

What the Wisdom Says

Use these passages for personal reflection.

“There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that.”
― Mark Twain, author

“Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict.”
― Dorothy Thompson, American journalist during WWII

“Rather than relying on a thin, idealized hope that we will all one day just get along, we can approach conflict resolution as an art form that we are privileged to develop and hone.”
— Diane Musho Hamilton, Zen teacher (Buddhism)

“Happily the peaceful live, discarding both victory and defeat.”
— Siddhartha Gautama (Buddhism)

“If your brother or sister hurts you, go and tell them — work it out between the two of you. If they listen, you’ve won back a friend.”
— Jesus of Nazareth (Christianity)

Suggested Resources

Use these resources if you want to dive deeper as you prepare.

  • “Conflict: It’s a Good Thing” (5-min article) by Christine Carter, PhD, discusses the developmental importance of conflict. “Conflict is entirely necessary for intellectual, emotional, and even moral growth. … Conflict between children is like the air they breathe: research shows that playing kids experience about one conflict every three minutes. … Research shows that learning positive conflict resolution brings loads of benefits to kids, boosting their academic performance and increasing their self-confidence and self-esteem.”
  • “The Value of Conflict: Socialization in the Parent-and-Child Class” (7-min article) by Kim Lewis, Waldorf teacher, says, “One of the first things I suggest to parents is that conflict is a beautiful thing. We live in a culture with a sort of “happiness addiction” and aversion to conflict. We know people who are so conflict-avoidant that they won’t speak up about their differing opinions and ideas to their own detriment. … Conflict is not the problem. It’s only the ongoing conflict that is never resolved that becomes problematic.”
  • “8 Tips to Minimize Your Kids’ Fighting” (3-min article) from VeryWellFamily shares ideas about how to reduce unwanted conflict in the home, including: “Ask them to come up with ideas, and then let them try it out. You might be surprised at their solutions, and they may know what works best” … “lavish attention when they’re caught doing something kind, positive or helpful” and “talk with kids about situations in which [you] have felt angry or mad and what steps [you] took to calm down.”
  • “5 Strategies to Help Kids Resolve Conflict” (4-min article) from PBS Kids highlights ways to support children in learning to be in conflict. “Teach your child to use ‘I feel’ statements when upset with a friend. When kids learn to use these statements, they focus on how a behavior affected them without resorting to blaming.”
  • “Rifts and Repairs in the Fabric of Family Life” (17-min article) by developmental psychologist Diana Divecha makes the bold claim that “if a caregiver met all of their child’s needs perfectly, it would actually get in the way of the child’s development.” Why? Divecha writes that “small exposures to the micro-stress of unpleasant feelings, followed by the pleasant feelings that accompany the repair, are what give them manageable practice in keeping their boat afloat when the waters are choppy.”

What the Science Says

Read an insight from an expert in psychology.

“Conflict is an essential form of communication. Over the course of a typical day, adolescents report three or four conflicts with parents and one or two conflicts with friends. … Absent excessive negativity, conflict offers an important mechanism through which individuals in a relationship balance competing needs, facilitating individual growth and development.”
— Ryan Adams, social developmental psychologist at the University of Cincinnati

“Conflict is simply the active expression of difference, and an essential part of human development. Without conflict change would be impossible.”
— Philip Slater, American sociologist

Consider starting with a simple ritual that works for you: light a candle, meditate, pray, sing, etc.

Opening Activity

Start by lightening the mood by watching “You Poked My Heart” (1-min video), which shows toddlers in a comedic conflict. Since the toddlers are occasionally hard to understand, you might first explain that they’re arguing about whether it’s raining or sprinkling outside.

Discuss:

  • What are these two toddlers arguing about? (Whether it’s raining or sprinkling outside.)
  • Where did each toddler get their view? (From their moms.)
  • Who was right in this conflict? (Perhaps they both were — or perhaps neither were!)
  • How do you think they handled this conflict?

Explain that because we all see things differently and have different needs, we all experience conflict. Conflict happens when we disagree with other people, and it happens in every home.

Conflict can either hurt or deepen relationships. To help us deepen relationships, it can help to be aware of conflict styles.

When conflict occurs, you might want to fight, flee, freeze, or face the situation confidently and calmly.

Fight: When you feel anger during conflict, you might want to attack the other person. But that leads to resentment and hurt feelings.

Flee: When you feel anxiety or fear during conflict, you might want to run and hide from the other person. But that leads to separation and loneliness.

Freeze: When you feel numb and apathetic during conflict, you might want to comply and do whatever the other person wants. But that leads to disconnecting from your inner compass and your personal needs.

Face: When you feel calm, confident, and curious during conflict, you likely want to confront the person, discuss the problem, and listen. This leads to growth and love.

The age-specific sections below invite kids to explore their personal tendencies.

Inner Compass: When you’re still and quiet, what do you sense will help you have healthy conflict in life?

Uplift Teens

Think of the most common conflicts you have with a sibling or parent.

What emotions tend to surface? What actions do you tend to take? What are the typical outcomes?

To answer these questions, it can help to complete these sentence stems from Zen teacher and mediation guide Diane Hamilton:

  • When I hear the word “conflict” I…
  • When a conflict arises, my body feels…
  • If I could change one thing about myself in dealing with conflict I would…

Diane Hamilton also talks about aggression, avoidance, and accommodation — which are similar to fight, flee, and freeze.

Which of these styles do you tend toward when you’re in conflict? How can you use the gift of each approach to work toward a healthy resolution?

Aggression: Do you have a tendency to force your will on others and to use your power to get your way? If so, you might be rupturing important relationships in your life.

The gift of aggression: Helps you be honest and engaged — the opposite of apathy.

Avoidance: Do you try to make conflict go away simply by pretending it isn’t there? You might stay silent or physically leave a situation to avoid the discomfort of confrontation.

The gift of avoidance: Helps you take a break, making space and distance.

Accommodation: Do you typically give into what others want, even when you disagree? You suppress your own needs and perspective to manage the tension of a rupture.

The gift of accommodation: Helps you explore compromise and perspective-taking.

Dealing With Conflict

Now that you’ve explored your personal conflict style, watch “How to Deal With Conflict” (4-min video) from SoulPancake, which shows a comedic tension between two roommates.

Here are the steps from the video:

  1. Get perspective. See if you can view what you look like and act like from the perspective of the other person
  2. Look in the mirror. Acknowledge your part in the conflict.
  3. Communicate calmly and honestly. This is part of facing the conflict.
  4. Listen. Really hear what the other person says.

Reflect:

  • What’s one thing you can practice in your life from this video?

Without conflict, change would be impossible.”

Uplift Kids

Think of the most common conflicts you have with a sibling or parent.

What emotions tend to surface? What actions do you tend to take? What are the typical outcomes?

Do you tend to fight, flee, or freeze?

Watch “Conflict Resolution: How to Settle Your Differences Fairly” (5-min video) to get ideas on how to be in conflict with others.

Steps to Face Conflict

  1. Pause. Notice what you feel. (Do you need a break?)
  2. See. Notice how they feel? (Glad, sad, mad?)
  3. Talk. Calmly explain how you feel. (“I feel upset right now.”)
  4. Listen. Listen carefully. (Ask, “How do you feel?”)

PEACE

Here’s one more strategy to consider: PEACE

P — Pause. Take a breath.
E — Explore the problem. What happened? What led to the conflict?
A — Ask questions. What do I want? What do they want?
C — Consider solutions. Is there a way for us to both get what we want?
E — Establish a plan. Decide what to do next.

Try working with the printout above and PEACE to see which strategy works best for you.

Uplift Littles

When you disagree with someone, you might act in different ways. Which animal are you most like when you are in a conflict?

Turtle: I hide in my shell like a turtle. I want to be alone.

Tiger: I attack like a tiger. I want to fight back.

Chameleon: I blend in like a chameleon. I want to give in to the other person and feel the same.

Discuss:

  • Each of these animals has something to teach us. What lessons can we learn from each one? (A turtle is safe in its shell, a tiger is strong and stands up for itself,  and a chameleon survives by blending in.)
  • Is there an animal you’d like to practice being more like just to see how it feels?

Animal Charades

Choose one of the animals above or another animal you can think of and act it out for others to guess.

Discuss:

  • How does this animal deal with conflict? (Do they run away, freeze, or fight?)
  • What lessons can you learn from this animal?

Closing Activity

Explain that when there’s a conflict and we feel an emotion, we all have a choice. We can either choose the immature expression of our feelings (which leads to disconnection), or we can choose the mature expression of our feelings (which leads to connection).

Sample Strategies:

  • When you feel anger, you can ask for a moment to cool down. Then, when you’re ready, you can engage calmly and confidently.
  • When you feel anxiety and fear, you can ask yourself what you like about the other person and what exactly you want from them. Then find the right time to ask for what you want, being open to hearing what they want.
  • When you feel numb and apathetic, you can ask what your inner compass is pointing you toward. With this in mind, knowing it’s good to follow your inner compass and best self, see if you can summon the courage to ask for what you want.

Discuss:

  • What is one thing we can each do to better navigate conflict in our home? 

Optional Closer: Dodgeball!

If you have a large outdoor or indoor space and some soft balls, set up a standard dodgeball game. If you don’t have a large space, use crumpled up paper for balls and rearrange some furniture to make a small dodgeball field.

Divide people into teams and explain that if they are hit with a ball, they are out. Play continues until only one person is standing.

Discuss:

  • What is your natural dodgeball strategy? Do you run around the field, hide behind others, or run straight to the middle and attack?
  • Do you feel like this is similar to the way you handle conflict in real life? Why or why not? 

Keep the Conversation Going

1. Practice, Practice, Practice
Print out the “Face, Freeze, Fight, Flee” worksheet and the “Steps to Face Conflict” worksheets above and work through them together each day.

2. Ideas to Face Conflict (adapted from PBS kids)

Supplies needed:

  • Popsicle sticks
  • Marker
  • Container to hold the popsicle sticks

On each popsicle stick, write down a conflict resolution strategy your child comes up with. Here are some ideas:

  • Take a deep breath
  • Count backward from 10
  • Get help from an adult
  • Tell the person to stop
  • Take a break
  • Say how you feel
  • Listen to the other person

Keep all the popsicle sticks in the jar and refer to them when your child is in conflict and needs an idea. Continue to add to the jar as your child discovers new strategies.

3. Seeing Differences

Show the following photo:

Ask each person to write down what they see in the image.

Compare your answers.

Discuss:

  • Is there only one right answer?
  • Why do you think people saw things differently in this image? How can we remind ourselves that it’s okay to view situations differently?

Explore other optical illusions where people have seen different things in the same image.

Consider closing with a simple ritual: blow out the candle, meditate, pray, sing, etc.

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Thank you!