Friday, August 31, 2018

"Reaching Neutral": An Object Lesson for Kids About Conflict



Kids and Fights

Any time you have two children in a room, eventually they will have a disagreement.  I really am not a fan of refereeing fights.  In a previous post I told you about teaching our kids a conflict resolution technique we called, "Face to Face."  You can find the post here

 However there is another really helpful way to help kids take a deep breath and focus when they are in the middle of a fight.  I call it:  "Reaching Neutral". 

What is "Reaching Neutral"?

 "Reaching neutral" is an object lesson which will show our children how to take a deep breath, reflect on the feelings of the other person, and figure out what they need to "own" in a disagreement. 

The Lesson


(I've put instructions for the parent in regular print and what to say to the child in red italics.)

Get out your blender, fill it with water and add a few drops of food coloring.  Don't blend them.  You want the kids to see that the food coloring is just resting on the water, but isn't blended in with it.  When the blender is plugged in, it is hooked up to a power source, but it doesn't work until you push the button.  It is in "neutral".  Neutral is when something is not going forward and it's not going backward.  It is resting.  

When are are engaged in a battle of words with someone we are like the blender on top speed.  Turn the blender on.  If you are a super brave mom, (and you are doing this outside) take off the lid, and then warp that baby up to top speed.  This would certainly make your point fast.  But, if you don't want to clean up a mess, go ahead and put the lid on and push "high".  They will be able to see that the food coloring is mixed in with the water and hits the lid a full force.  They can imagine that the mess would quickly reach ceiling level.  

This is what happens when we begin to engage in a hasty, disrespectful way with others. We act fast, we stir things up, we can do a lot of damage in just a few seconds.  

Now, I want you to see what happens when we put ourselves in neutral right away. 

Pour out the contents of the blender and then refill it. Push the pulse function on your blender for just a second.  This should barely disturb the water.  The water is just a little stirred up, but the damage is much less.  Why?  Because as soon as we began to see that the water was getting stirred up, we put the blender back into neutral.  

 When you are upset with someone else, put yourself into neutral.  Stop seeing yourself as 'right' and them as 'wrong'.  Stop throwing words back a them.  Take a deep breath.  If you need to step away, don't do it in anger.  Tell the other person, "I need a few minutes to think."  Try to consider the disagreement from their perspective.  Don't spend your time thinking of nasty comments, snappy retorts, or mean insults.  Instead, ask God to show you what part you played in the argument and what you need to "own" - that means we figure out what we need to say "sorry" for. 

After you have put yourself in neutral, go back to the other person.  Speak calmly.  Ask about their feelings. Arguments are seldom about events, they are about how it made the other person feel.  If you need to apologize, do so.  You will soon find that, our disagreements can often disappear and help us come together in a way that helpful and not harmful.  

Enjoy a snack together and answer their questions.  They may ask if you have ever reached a "speed of 10" in an argument.  Be honest.  My kids have learned a lot from my failings.  

They may ask what do to if the other person is unwilling to work through the disagreement.  Once again, be candid.  We all know other adults who have not yet mastered the ability to put themselves into neutral.  From my experience, I am not responsible for the other person's reactions to my honest efforts at harmony and peace.  I am not the Holy Spirit.  It is not my job to convict them to mop up messes.  Peacefully walk away and trust that sooner or later they will be ready to solve issues.  Pray for them and when you see them, be kind.  

I hope that this will be helpful for you and your family.  Leave your comments and feedback below. 


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