Family Resources
Session Seven: Resolving Conflict

“Session Seven: Resolving Conflict,” Strengthening the Family: Instructor’s Guide (2006), 69–78

“Session Seven,” Strengthening the Family, 69–78

Session Seven

Resolving Conflict

“Satan knows that the surest … way to disrupt the Lord’s work is to diminish the effectiveness of the family and the sanctity of the home.”

Elder M. Russell Ballard

Session Objectives

During this session, help parents:

  • Understand that differences of opinion are inevitable and that families who resolve conflicts grow closer and become stronger.

  • Learn ways of dealing with conflict in the home.

  • Understand how to resolve differences peacefully.

The Problem of Unresolved Conflict

Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that the family is one of Satan’s favorite targets: “[Satan] works to drive a wedge of disharmony between a father and a mother. He entices children to be disobedient to their parents. … That’s all it takes, because Satan knows that the surest and most effective way to disrupt the Lord’s work is to diminish the effectiveness of the family and the sanctity of the home.”1

An elderly woman recalled with great sorrow the results of unresolved conflict in her family: “As I attended the graveside service for my last remaining brother, I reflected on the tragic childhood events that embittered my three brothers, driving them from home and from the restored gospel that has meant so much to me. My father, a religious man, was demanding and contentious, verbally chastising his children in public as well as private. As my brothers grew older, they began to fight back. The fights were vicious and ugly, and escalated into cursing and slugging. Each of my brothers left home at an early age, rarely returning to visit their parents. Nor did they want anything to do with the religion espoused by my father.”

The causes of conflict are many. Some parents are overly permissive, giving in to their children’s whims until their children’s behavior is out of control. Others are too restrictive, provoking their children to rebel. Some parents overreact to their children’s normal drive for independence. Some children go astray and willfully engage in behavior that violates family rules and standards.

Family members grow closer and become stronger when they resolve differences successfully. Left unresolved, conflicts destroy family relationships and cause sorrow among family members.

How to Resolve Conflict

During His ministry among the Nephites, the Savior denounced those who are contentious:

“He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.

“Behold, … this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away” (3 Nephi 11:29–30).

Jesus counseled that people should resolve contentions with others before they come unto Him:

“If ye shall come unto me, or shall desire to come unto me, and rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee—

“Go thy way unto thy brother, and first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I will receive you” (3 Nephi 12:23–24; see also 3 Nephi 12:9).

These teachings apply to parents and the manner in which they relate to their children. In the proclamation on the family, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve prescribed anew the Savior’s formula for rearing children successfully: “Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God and to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live.”2

Review with parents the following principles for resolving conflict.

Approach Parent—Child Problems with a Christlike Attitude

Applying the Savior’s teachings to their role as parents, fathers and mothers should show love and a willingness to resolve conflict, making concessions in a spirit of compromise while upholding values and standards, striving to persuade their children while refusing to give in to manipulation. Parents should teach their children correct principles and the rationale for family rules. They should encourage their children to make correct choices, persuade them when they are argumentative, impose consequences when they choose to disobey (see session 9), and tenderly plead with them when they are on the verge of making serious mistakes.

Listen to Understand

Many conflicts are averted when parents use good listening skills and seek to understand their upset, angry children. The scriptures teach that “a soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). A child’s angry feelings often dissipate when he or she feels understood and respected by the parent. Parents who listen may find that their own feelings and perspectives change.

Refuse to Argue

One of the basic principles for resolving conflict in the home is so simple that it is often overlooked. It involves living the higher law of Christ and refusing to argue. Glenn Latham, a Latter-day Saint parent educator, emphasized the magnitude of Christ’s great example of refusing to contend with others, even when unfairly accused and abused: “Christ is the perfect example of nonreviling, even in the face of cruel and unwarranted assaults; in circumstances where he was spit upon, buffeted, smitten, taunted, rejected and denied, mocked and even crucified (Matt. 26:67–70and 27:29, 35), he did not revile. He did not strike back. Though he could have called down ‘more than twelve legions of angels’ (Matt. 26:53), he ‘reviled not.’ He was a frequent, almost continual, victim of reviling from the very beginning to the very end of His life, even by those who suffered with Him: ‘And they that were crucified with him reviled him’ (Mark 15:32). … The more supreme the goodness, the more it seems to attract revilers—and the less it seems to revile in return. This is the model parents should emulate when being buffeted about by unruly children. ‘Revile Not!’”3

Parents who refuse to argue with a contentious child soon discover that the contention is short-lived. Quarreling and fighting cannot occur when one person refuses to engage in it. Latham observed, “In my research on the treatment of behavior problems, I have been astounded to find that if parents remain calm, empathetic, and direct even in the face of outrageous reviling, 97 out of 100 times, on the third directive [the third statement of parental expectations], children will comply.”4

Some parents may think that a noncombative response (not fighting back) gives children the upper hand, allows them to win arguments, and places them in control of family matters. This is not the case. Christ stood courageously in front of His tormentors, always in control of His response, never seeking to escape. Loving them and recognizing their ignorance, He even pleaded for his Father to forgive them (see Luke 23:34).

In other sessions, parents review ways to communicate expectations, to give their children choices between acceptable behavioral alternatives, and to impose consequences that are agreed upon in advance when their children do not obey. When children want to argue, parents can restate their expectations in a kind and loving way and judiciously remind their children of consequences already agreed upon. When parents have done these things, their children will have little to argue about.

Children are often governed to a great extent by the things that go on around them. One of the things they want most is parental attention. According to Glenn Latham, “parental attention is the most powerful force or consequence in the shaping of children’s behavior.”5 When children fail to draw negative attention by being argumentative, they usually calm down and engage in more socially acceptable behavior.

Follow Scriptural Guidelines for Reproving Children

Parents may need to reprove a child “betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost” and then show forth “an increase of love” lest they be esteemed as the child’s enemy (D&C 121:43). President James E. Faust clarified that the Holy Ghost moves a person to reprove with sharpness “only very rarely” and that “any reproving should be done gently in an effort to convince the one being reproved that it is done in his own interest.”6 Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve taught that betimes means “early or soon,”7 suggesting that the reproof should occur soon after the infraction so as to be understood. The word sharpness in this context does not mean with anger or forcefulness, but clearly and distinctly. Wise parents often follow up an intense session with a child by expressing love to the child, giving the child appropriate physical affection, and sometimes engaging the child in an enjoyable activity.

Selectively Arbitrate Conflicts between Children

Children sometimes engage in arguments to get attention and to have the parents take their side. These arguments often place parents in a no-win position. They can never fully know how the conflict started and what has happened between the children. By taking sides, they may reward an undeserving child and alienate the other child.

Parents can often help best by taking a neutral position and by giving the children responsibility to solve the problem. Parents can do this by using good communication skills, as shown in the following example (see also session 3).

Sid And Vance

Dad entered the room as Sid, 12, and Vance, 9, were wrestling on the floor, hitting and yelling at each other. Vance began to cry, and Sid called him a baby. Dad stepped in and pulled the boys apart.


What’s going on between you two?


Vance started it.


I did not. You started it.


So, you’re both blaming each other for starting the problem. (Gives them responsibility for solving the problem.) What do you think we should do to solve it?


Tell Sid to leave me alone.


Leave you alone? What about me? Who was it that took my cards and scattered them all over the floor? Leave my stuff alone, and we’ll get along fine.


(Remains neutral; uses reflective listening.) So Vance, you’re saying that Sid started it, and Sid, you’re saying that Vance started it by taking your cards without asking.


Yeah, well who was it that took my CD without asking?


Both of you are blaming each other for taking things without asking. So let me ask again, what needs to happen to solve this problem?


Tell Vance to grow up.


Why don’t you grow up?


(Prepares to impose a logical consequence.) It sounds to me like you want to keep arguing. Maybe you better go to your separate rooms until you’re ready to solve this.


I’m ready.


So am I.


Tell Vance he needs to ask before he borrows my things.


Sid never asks me before he takes my things. He needs to ask too.


So both of you want the other to ask before borrowing things. Is that right?




I guess.


I like that suggestion. Is that agreeable to both of you?

Sid and Vance:


In this case, arbitration worked because the father was able to listen without taking sides and obtained the children’s cooperation in suggesting and carrying out a solution. The threat of consequences seemed to motivate the children to look for a solution to their problem. Although the consequence turned out to be unnecessary, it would have been an appropriate intervention had the children wanted to continue the argument.

Negotiation may be unnecessary if the parents have something the children want. For example, if they are taking their children to a ball game and the children are fighting in the car, the parents can stop the car and give them a choice—they can settle the argument or they will be taken home. Often the least intrusive solution is the most effective one.

Some parenting educators advocate asking children to go outside when they are fighting and not to return until the argument is settled. They reason that children, once deprived of adult attention, soon lose their motivation to fight. That may be true, but children fight for more reasons than adult attention. The risk of leaving children on their own to work out conflict is that the stronger child may abuse the weaker child emotionally and physically. Parents should heed King Benjamin’s commandment to his people: “Ye will not suffer your children … [to] fight and quarrel one with another” (Mosiah 4:14).

A Problem-Solving Model

Some families have successfully used the following five-step model for solving conflicts, adapted from the work of psychologist Susan Heitler.8 The model works best when family members understand it and agree to use it.

Step 1: State Positions

Each person states his or her position or preference—how he or she would resolve the issue—without fear of interruption, attack, or ridicule. Sometimes a solution becomes apparent during this process, although solutions usually come in step 4.


Dad wants the family to start having a regular family home evening. Mom is content not to have family home evening. Alfredo, 15, wants to play soccer with his friends on Monday nights. Marietta, 10, wants to have family home evening.

Step 2: Explore Underlying Concerns

Family members explore their positions in greater depth, examining the concerns that underlie their positions.

Dad shares his spiritual conviction that family home evening could bless their family. He is also concerned about the implications of disobeying the leaders of the Church when they have taught the importance of this program for so many years.

Mom, while growing up, saw her family argue every time they tried to have a family night. She does not want the same thing to happen with her children. While she wants to obey prophetic counsel, she fears that family home evening will cause more conflict than it is worth.

Alfredo shares his feelings about the importance of being with his friends and his reluctance to join the family in a spiritual activity.

Marietta shares her desire to do what the prophet has asked their family to do.

During this phase, family members should look for any underlying concerns that are common to everyone.

Family members observe that they all care about each other and want the family to be happy and harmonious. They all have at least some desire to engage in activities that will strengthen the family, although they disagree about what those activities should be.

Step 3: Brainstorm Possible Solutions

Each person suggests solutions without being attacked or ridiculed. In considering solutions, each person proposes what she or he could do to contribute to a total plan of action that would respond to everyone’s concerns. Every solution, no matter how impractical, is written down. This freedom fosters creativity from which a viable solution may emerge.

Family members list these possible solutions:

  • Have family home evening each Monday night before soccer.

  • Decide not to have family home evening.

  • Have family home evening but excuse those who do not wish to participate.

  • Hold family home evening on a Sunday night.

  • Have a family activity night without a spiritual message.

  • Have family home evening, but make participation in spiritual activities optional.

Step 4: Select a Solution

After brainstorming is completed, family members evaluate each suggestion and create a plan that will be responsive to the concerns of everyone. Since the solution generally needs multiple components to address the concerns of all family members, the family should think in terms of “building a solution set rather than simply … finding a or the solution.”9

The feelings of the parents matter as do the feelings of the children. For example, a couple may feel that they should teach gospel principles during family home evening while a child may want only to play games. To be responsive to the child’s feelings as well as their own, the parents could include gospel instruction in a way that interests the child and is understandable to him or her.

Once a plan has been created, responsibilities for carrying out the plan of action are agreed upon and commitments received from participants.

After evaluating the suggestions, the family decides to hold family home evening on Sunday nights whenever Alfredo plays soccer the following evening. The parents would prefer always to have family home evening on Monday, but not at the price of excluding their son.

Alfredo is willing to sit in on family home evening gospel discussions as long as he does not have to give lessons. Mother feels comfortable with the arrangement, particularly since her children agree to the meetings. Father is responsible to organize and conduct the meetings. Dad, Mom, and occasionally Marietta will share in giving lessons.

Step 5: Carry Out the Solution

As family members carry out the solution, they evaluate where modifications are needed. In some cases, they may need to find a different solution.

A New Covenant

President James E. Faust of the First Presidency pointed out that during Jesus Christ’s mortal ministry He introduced a new testament—a new and better covenant that requires men and women to abide by a higher law. No longer were individuals (including parents) to follow a law of retribution (see Exodus 21:24), but they were to be guided by a desire to do good, turning the other cheek to those who smite them (see Matthew 5:39). They were to love their enemies and pray for those who would despitefully use and persecute them (see Matthew 5:44). They were to seek and follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit in their actions toward others.10

Love at Home

President Thomas S. Monson told a poignant story that underscores the importance of resolving differences that can destroy family solidarity:

“There are those families comprised of mothers and fathers, sons and daughters who have, through thoughtless comment, isolated themselves from one another. An account of how such a tragedy was narrowly averted occurred many years ago in the life of a young man who, for purposes of privacy, I shall call Jack.

“Throughout Jack’s life, he and his father had many serious arguments. One day when he was 17, they had a particularly violent one. Jack said to his father, ‘This is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I’m leaving home, and I shall never return.’ So saying, he went to the house and packed his bag. His mother begged him to stay; he was too angry to listen. He left her crying at the doorway.

“Leaving the yard, he was about to pass through the gate when he heard his father call to him, ‘Jack, I know that a large share of the blame for your leaving rests with me. For this I am truly sorry. I want you to know that if you should ever wish to return home, you’ll always be welcome. And I’ll try to be a better father to you. I want you to know that I’ll always love you.’

“Jack said nothing but went to the bus station and bought a ticket to a distant point. As he sat on the bus, watching the miles go by, he commenced to think about the words of his father. He began to realize how much love it had required for him to do what he had done. Dad had apologized. He had invited him back and left the words ringing in the summer air: ‘I love you.’

“It was then that Jack realized that the next move was up to him. He knew the only way he could ever find peace with himself was to demonstrate to his father the same kind of maturity, goodness, and love that Dad had shown toward him. Jack got off the bus. He bought a return ticket and went back.

“He arrived shortly after midnight, entered the house, turned on the light. There in the rocking chair sat his father, his head in his hands. As he looked up and saw Jack, he arose from the chair and they rushed into each other’s arms. Jack often said, ‘Those last years that I was home were among the happiest of my life.’

“We could say that here was a boy who overnight became a man. Here was a father who, suppressing passion and bridling pride, rescued his son before he became one of that vast ‘lost battalion’ resulting from fractured families and shattered homes. Love was the binding band, the healing balm. Love so often felt, so seldom expressed. …

“… Ours is the responsibility, yes, even the solemn duty, to reach out to those who have … strayed from the family circle.”11

As families abide by the new covenant introduced by the Savior, resolving differences in a loving, amicable way, they will enjoy greater love, peace, and harmony in their family relationships.


  1. “The Sacred Responsibilities of Parenthood” in Brigham Young University 2003–2004 Speeches (Provo: Brigham Young University, 2004), 89.

  2. “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102.

  3. Christlike Parenting: Taking the Pain out of Parenting (Seattle: Gold Leaf Press,1999), 66.

  4. Christlike Parenting, 69.

  5. Christlike Parenting, 67.

  6. In Conference Report, Oct. 1980, 51; or Ensign, Nov. 1980, 35.

  7. In Conference Report, Apr. 1993, 97; or Ensign, May 1993, 78–79.

  8. From Conflict to Resolution: Skills and Strategies for Individual, Couple, and Family Therapy by Susan M. Heitler, Ph.D. Copyright © 1990 by Susan Heitler. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, pages 22–43.

  9. The Power of Two: Secrets to a Strong and Loving Marriage (California: New Harbinger Publications, 1997), 202.

  10. See “The Surety of a Better Testament,” Ensign, Sept. 2003, 3–6.

  11. In Conference Report, Oct. 2003, 61–62; or Ensign, Nov. 2003, 58.