One of the best environments to perfect your conflict resolution skills is in the presence of children who all want to play with the same toy. This was a daily occurrence in the daycare I operated out of my home.
“I had it first,” one would say.
“No! I did!”
I always hoped that the two parties would sort it out without my intervention, but those wishes never came true.
I usually had to pull two kids off of each other, with one clutching onto the highly sought after item for dear life.
An orange plastic spatula from the kitchen set could suddenly be the hot commodity of the day for no reason. And in the heat of the battle, a weapon to ward off the competition. It was anyone’s guess what would be next. It was like an invisible wheel was spun, and without warning, a fight broke out over the dark blue crayon because someone wanted to color a picture of the sky.
“What about light blue?” I would ask.
“No! I want that one!”
You can’t interfere with the vision of a budding artist.
These brawls could escalate fast and turn physical quickly. The worst offense was when someone would make the poor decision to bite someone else.
None of the behavior was acceptable, and I knew I was training these people for their futures. I didn’t want anyone going into a business meeting at thirty and sinking their teeth into their employer or coworkers.
This is where I had to teach them how to get along in the world and deal with other people without drawing blood.
Molly, the oldest of the group, introduced me to this way of handling her emotions. She had no problem chomping into her brother’s nearby arm. And usually, it was when I wasn’t looking she would do so.
The next thing I knew, he would be running toward me, mouth wide open, face contorted and making no sound until he exhaled. On that output of oxygen, I knew that an ear-shattering sound was about to erupt.
He would throw himself at me, and in between sobs, he would say,
“She bit me!”
I knew who the vampire was that he referred to without even asking. I would console him and ask where she had struck. Generally, it was his hand or arm, but she would go for his cheek below his eye on occasion.
“Molly. Why did you bite your brother?”
Now I had to be like Solomon and decide what punishment to hand out. If it were determined she had tried to wrestle something out of his hands and used her teeth to get it, she would be sent to a remote location where I could still see her and hear her but give her time to think.
She usually stormed off, highly irritated that I wouldn’t see her side of things even though she had assaulted him. I knew my judgment was fair, with the other kids testifying against her and an established pattern.
My oldest daughter never engaged in such combativeness. She generally tried to negotiate her way out of situations through reason. If something upset her, she would use her verbal skills to convey the injustice, and if she was in the wrong, I didn’t automatically give in just because I was her mom. I made her learn just like the rest of them.
She minded her own business most of the time until one of them would disrupt her peace. She was good at saying “no” very emphatically when the occasion called for it, and she never took something away from someone else. It was as if she knew the feeling of having that happen, so she never did that.
“She bit me, Miss Chris!” I heard Molly say.
I was helping another child get dressed for the day.
“Who?” I asked.
When she said my daughter’s name, I was shocked. Molly pulled up beside me and showed me the mark on her arm.
Great, it was spreading like a virus now.
When I questioned my daughter, she didn’t deny it.
“She hit me, so I bit her.”
The advantage of being at home made it possible for me to send her upstairs and know she would be safe.
Molly acted like she was on her death bed as I looked at the tiny indentation.
“Why do you think she did this?”
“I dunno.” The nervous shifting and hair twirling. Clear signs that Molly was not an innocent bystander.
When I asked later what happened, my daughter confessed that when Molly tried to grab what was in her hand, she fought to keep it. Then Molly slapped her, and my daughter then did what she knew was not right.
“Come and get me next time,” I said.
“I don’t like it when she bites her brother.”
“Then you shouldn’t do that.”
I was concerned that once this started, maybe it wouldn’t be stopped, and all of them would be snarling like rabid dogs.
I took my daughter to a store and made her pick out something to give to Molly to make amends with the promise never to do it again.
That was the easy part. The problematic portion was the “I am sorry.” On some level, my daughter felt like Molly deserved the pain inflicted on her. And secretly, so did I. But, we had to do the right thing, and that’s not always fun.
I just wanted everyone’s teeth kept to themselves, and it seemed to disappear after that when the olive branch was extended.
While that seemed to be over, my youngest daughter would apologize when I prompted her, but its sincerity was questionable.
“You need to tell your sister that you are sorry.”
She had excellent enunciation skills until that moment. This child was advanced on all levels. She was up and running at nine months old and speaking so clearly in complete sentences like she had already been to preschool when she hit a year.
So when it came to apologizing, and she slurred her words, that was a slight hint that she was faking it. She threw a “w” in where one should not have been.
“I am sorry” got changed to “sworrie” with no pronoun. She thought it was good enough as she would say it and then run off before I could stop her. It was the least amount of effort to get out from the line of fire. I would often return her to the crime scene, wrestle with her to have her stand still, and have her repeat after me.
The two of them can be competitive. Board games and cards have always been grudge matches where they often go after one another while I sit back and watch the carnage. Many times I end up winning as an observer, like Switzerland.
When we played Sorry! they never could gently land on the other player’s space and put them back at home. It was a trouncing on that piece with it flying across the room and the yelling of “sorry, not sorry!”
They did this through every single game to each other. Back and forth with a vengeance, they would roll, slide and knock each other off. If one of them didn’t notice that the other had invaded their spot, silence would hang in the air until the opponent was fully aware that they were about to be sent back to start. An innocent pawn would be removed with a flick of a wrist, making someone’s blood boil.
Like what you witness daily while in your car when you see a vehicle cut someone off.
Or like the other day when I was waiting in a long line at a store and this lady who was talking on her phone, totally oblivious to the world going on around her, walked in front of me to go next. I would have stayed quiet, but I had to be somewhere.
When I told her the line was behind me, she snapped at me as if I were the problem and then returned to her call. You can’t help some people.
Not too long ago, just before a holiday when the store was bursting at the seams with people, I was in another line in the same situation, and a man with a cart full of items materialized in front of me with a lot of people waiting.
“There’s a line behind me,” I said.
He spun around, and I thought it would be the usual apology, but instead, he said condescendingly,
And he didn’t move.
“I am relaxed,” I said. “I’m letting you know that the line is behind me.”
Again he said,
He held out the last sound like a hiss and proceeded to take the next available register while the rest of us stood around longer.
How do we possibly live here with such horrible people? I’m asking for a friend.
It is not easy to coexist with others who seem to go out of their way to run others over. The only way I can cope with it at times is to tell myself I won’t ever see them again, hopefully. Apparently, we are to take it one step farther according to 1 Thessalonians 5:15,
Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. (NIV)
Easier said than done, but it doesn’t cause you damage in the long run.
To carry the offense is to drag along baggage that weighs you down and changes your outlook on life. Soon, it becomes a habit to find something wrong with everything and everybody because now you have formed a negative attitude.
So what are you supposed to do instead? 1 Peter 3:9 says this,
Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (NIV)
In the tension of the moment, or after years of putting up with bad behavior, it is tempting to want to lash out and return with a nasty remark, but what does that accomplish in the long run? It’s a temporary high that creates more darkness.
I have found that most of my spiritual growth has come when I have had to control my responses and let God take over. It doesn’t mean denying how I feel, but when I am not doing the talking, all the right words seem to pour out, and the situation gets diffused. It’s like a game of tug of war where someone drops the rope, and it ends it.
God, the one I know, is described as omnipotent and benevolent. Meaning, the best outcome will happen if you allow divine intervention and the putting aside of your way. That will always win over revenge.