How To Stop Being The Referee And Teach Kids How To Resolve Their Own Problems

“I need two volunteers!” As my two volunteers came up to the front of the room, I took out a full-sized candy bar and a tootsie roll. I explained, “These are for the two of you. Both of you need to decide who gets what. The only rule is that you cannot break the candy in any way.” I stepped back to watch how they would handle it. How would you handle it?


What does this object lesson have to do with Genesis 13:5-7? Abraham and Lot had too much substance to live on the same piece of land. It was starting to cause contention between Abraham and Lot’s herdmen.

How did Abraham solve it? Did Abraham say, “I’m the uncle. I’m very rich and have more stuff. I need the bigger land.” No. He decided to let Lot choose which piece of land he wanted (Genesis 13:8). Lot chose the land that was “even as the garden of the Lord.” He picked the candy bar and left the tootsie roll to Abraham!

One Saturday when I was younger, my mom wrote down a bunch of chores she wanted us kids to do before we could play. My older brother held out the slips of paper and let his younger siblings choose which ones they wanted to do. It was a race to get the easiest chores! I vividly remember picking the 2-3 easiest chores I could find and being slightly annoyed when my younger sister beat me to the simplest one! I remember looking at the chores my brother held in his hand. They were hard and I knew they would take a lot more effort. He didn’t utter a word of complaint. He said, “Let’s get them done fast and then we can play!” As I recall, he finished his chores before we did and then he came to help us. I always remembered that – how happy he was to sacrifice for us.

This was exactly how Abraham felt towards Lot. He didn’t hold a grudge. He meant it when he said, “Let there be no strife” (Gen. 13:8). As a result of his generosity the Lord poured out special blessings for Abraham including land and endless posterity (Genesis 13:14-18). I used to think this was just a lesson on karma – you are generous and the Lord is generous to you, but there is more to it. The Lord blessed Abraham with prosperity because he knew Abraham would use it to bless all the people around him (as we will see shortly). The Lord is more willing to bless those who are eager to bless others.

What did Lot get? Yes, he got the better land, but that was definitely only a short-term advantage. Lot “pitched his tent toward Sodom” (Genesis 13:12). He was selfish and ended up living by (and eventually with) selfish, evil people. We need to be very careful with our thoughts, words, and actions. We end up becoming friends with the people we are like! And that can have dire consequences. People often end up doing things they never dreamed they would do because of the influence of bad friends and they sometimes get the consequences of their friends’ bad choices. Because of Lot’s proximity to Sodom, he was captured in battle. He hadn’t done anything wrong, but he fell victim to the wicked kings in that area.

Lucky for Lot, Abraham truly didn’t hold grudges. He “armed his trained servants (Abraham was always prepread!), born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan” (Genesis 14:14). Abraham raises an army and rescues Lot! He risked his life to save a man who had taken the better land. Abraham also ends up rescuing all the prisoners of war and their goods. The King of Sodom was so grateful he told Abraham to keep all the goods and just return the people. Abraham replied, “I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, That I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich” (Genesis 14:23). Abraham understood that all the earth belongs to God and any wealth we obtain comes from Him.

“We are here on His [God’s] earth, we breathe His air, we behold His sunlight, we eat His food, we wear His clothing. ‘Our own’ property belongs to Him.”
–Joseph F. Smith, “In The Presence of the Divine,” Ensign June 1979

Abraham wanted the glory to go to the Lord. He wanted people to know that the Lord had blessed Him with victory and with riches, not the King of Sodom. Abraham didn’t want anything to do with wickedness. He stayed as far away from it as possible. He wouldn’t even accept a shoelatchet from the King of Sodom! Abraham didn’t get anything of worldly value for himself in rescuing Lot. Truly, Abraham was the epitome of unselfishness.


Sadly, Lot doesn’t learn his lesson. Some time after the battle, he ends up living IN Sodom! Many a righteous person has declared, “I can be around these people. I can choose to be righteous even if they do wicked things. I’m just having some fun. I want to enjoy life.” But the words and actions of those we associate with rubs off on us.

Lot learned this lesson the hard way. He reaps the consequences of living among the wicked. The city is destroyed and although he escapes with his life and two daughters (but none of his possessions), he loses his wife and his married daughters. He could not convince his sons-in-law to leave the city (Genesis 19:14). Yes, Lot didn’t succumb to wickedness, but he paid a heavy price for living among the wicked. Let us be diligent in teaching our children what good friends are, what bad friends are, and the dangerous consequences that come from choosing bad friends. We are nice to everyone, but our close friends should influence us for good. The definition for a true friend is someone who makes it easier to live the gospel and become like Jesus Christ.


Neal A. Maxwell described the dangers of selfishness. They are much more potent than meets the eye.

“Selfishness is much more than an ordinary problem because it activates all the cardinal sins! It is the detonator in the breaking of the Ten Commandments.
By focusing on oneself, it is naturally easier to bear false witness if it serves one’s purpose. It is easier to ignore one’s parents instead of honoring them. It is easier to steal, because what one wants prevails. It is easier to covet, since the selfish conclude that nothing should be denied them….
The selfish individual thus seeks to please not God, but himself….
Selfishness has little time to regard the sufferings of others seriously, hence the love of many waxes cold.”
–Neal A. Maxwell, “Put Off The Natural Man And Come Off Conqueror,” General Conference October 1990.

One of the greatest hindrances to peace in our homes is selfishness. How many of our disagreements could be solved if we took a step back to think about the other person’s perspective?


In the book Siblings Without Rivalry, the authors talk about having problem solving sessions. We have used this technique and love it. We had to use it a lot at the beginning, but as we’ve used it more and more our kids have discovered, developed, and invented more ways to solve problems and they can work out many more problems by THEMSELVES! My favorite thing is to hear them talking out a problem in a different room. Music to my ears!

What is this technique? You simple call a family meeting (or call a meeting of the disagreeing parties) and lay down some ground rules. Each child gets to talk about the problem and describe their feelings (without any interruptions). Then, they get to list all the solutions they can think of without any fear of their idea being rejected or ridiculed. It is imperative that ALL solutions are written down (no matter how ridiculous!). If ideas are immediately vetoed, kids are less likely to offer solutions and they learn that their ideas don’t matter. Some may conclude, “Mom or an older sibling get to decide my problems for me. I’ll just sit here and let them solve it.” That’s a sure way to get more future fights because if you have a child who doesn’t know how to solve a problem, there will be endless fighting exactly because they don’t know how to end it!

I let my kids exhaust all possible solutions before I offer some of my own (sometimes I don’t need to, but for younger kids or tougher problems, I do step in and offer some solutions). The next step is to decide which solutions will work for everyone. If someone isn’t happy with it, then we move on to the next possible solution.

This has been a marvelous opportunity for my kids to learn to listen to each other, understand the other sibling’s feelings and perspective, and use critical thinking skills and creativity to develop some pretty awesome problem solving skills! They have come up with solutions that I never would have dreamed up! Never underestimate children’s abilities to work out problems. My three-year-old has come up with some impressive solutions. If mom always steps in to solve problems, the children never learn how to communicate, cooperate, compromise, or negotiate. Their only solution is to run to mom. And as fair as mom tries to be, there is often one kid who feels like the winner and another one who feels like he lost which can create resentment and bad feelings toward their sibling or mom. But if the kids work it out, they find great joy and pride in coming up with their own solutions and there is often a mutual feeling of fairness – they both win!

This strategy also works well if mom (or dad) is having a chronic problem with a child (for example: child A isn’t getting ready for school on time or child B resents practicing the piano). I’ve found it works much better to sit down with that child and work through this process. Child A is much more likely to follow through (and have a better attitude!) with a solution that he/she helped come up with.

Russell M. Nelson has given great advice about teaching children.

“The family has been under attack ever since Satan first taunted Adam and Eve. (See Gen. 3) So today, each must guard against the hazard of contention in the family. It usually begins innocently…In a large family of boys, those with the longest reach were the best fed. In order to avoid obvious contention, they adopted a rule that required them at mealtime to leave at least one foot on the floor.
The home is the great laboratory of learning and love. Here parents help children overcome these natural tendencies to be selfish.”
–Russell M. Nelson, “The Canker of Contention,” Ensign May 1989

I echo his statement: the home really is the great laboratory where we TRAIN our children to be selfless and Christ-like. I used to despair that there were so many problems every day, but now I see that it is, in large measure, a good thing. Where better to learn how to deal with the challenges of life than in a home where you are loved? The next time your kids start arguing, take a deep breath and remember that this can be turned into a great learning opportunity for them!