Is there such thing as a quarrel-free relationship? Not that we’re aware of. And with kids in the mix, it’s inevitable that sometimes arguments will happen in front of them. From a child’s point of view, it can be frightening when grownups are mad at each other—not to mention it sends the wrong message that yelling is the grown-up way to handle disagreements. Here are 5 tips:
- Model how to resolve conflicts respectfully. There’s a difference between talking through your feelings and nasty conflicts. Karen Friedland-Brown, Director of Parents Place on the Peninsula, recommends handling disagreements with “active listening.” This means listening to what your partner is saying, asking for what he/she needs without implying that the other person is wrong, making eye contact, and letting him/her know you understand. A disagreement that is quickly solvable is a valuable opportunity to model for your kids how to resolve conflicts: peacefully and constructively.
- Give yourself a time out. Karen recommends devising a code word in advance for when things are getting too heated. “Allow one parent to leave the room or take a walk to blow off steam,” Karen says. “And if you know there are certain triggering subjects, avoid them until you’re behind closed doors.” Nobody benefits when a disagreement turns into yelling and disrespect.
- Reassure your kids and help them make sense of it. If a big blowout does happen in front of your kids, help them process the situation. Since kids don’t understand the full picture, they often assume the worst: that they’re at fault or that you’ll break up. Karen says a simple explanation will often help, something like: “People who care about each other sometimes argue, then they figure out a way to solve the problem and be kind to each other. We still love you and we still love each other.” And if your kids intervene and ask you to stop fighting? That’s a clear sign to you and your partner to take a step back and reassure your child that things are okay.
- Be mindful of the overall balance. The emotional tone in your household is important for children to feel secure. Open (and respectful) disagreements once in awhile are okay if you have plenty of positive, loving interactions to balance it out. Avoiding conflict completely or ignoring each other isn’t healthy either. Kids pick up on emotional distance. Although “alone time” is often hard to come by as parents, make it a priority for you and your partner to connect before minor disagreements erupt into serious conflicts.
- Seek help if necessary. If you’ve fought with your partner in front of your child, don’t panic. But if it happens regularly—or if your arguments are devolving into insults, swearing and slamming doors—Karen says these are red flags to seek counseling. Other signs to look out for? “If you’re not able to get on the same page for what to do when conflict comes up, or if one partner is picking fights or undermining the authority of the other parent, that’s a concern.”
The bottom line is that conflict is inevitable in even the happiest of relationships. Every couple can learn healthy conflict resolution in a way that protects both your kids and your relationship with your partner.
Not feeling heard by your partner or having trouble staying cool in conflict? Parents Place offers private parent consultation sessions so you can get the support you need to communicate with kindness and ease with your partner, and your kids! Contact us to schedule a consultation in person or via Skype.