Cincinnati Family Magazine

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April 16, 2024

Conflicts WILL happen. But children need to see their parents make up and go on. Making up in front of your kids shows them that loving someone may not be perfect, but that love is resilient.

The Good Way to Fight

Resolving matters healthily is the best way to manage conflicts at home.

We’ve all been there before: an argument is building between you and your partner, frustration growing with each word. You think the two of you are alone, only to find a pair of round, inquisitive eyes peering at you from across the room. It’s at this moment when you are at a crossroads: do I continue the argument or abandon it and just walk away?
    Your instinct is to immediately feel badly about arguing and to abandon the discussion. But experts say it’s not the actual fight, but what happens after, that can leave a lasting impression on your kids. Kerry Brown, MS, CLS, senior parenting specialist and parent coach at Beech Acres Parenting Center in Cincinnati, says that if kids witness fighting in a healthy way, they can learn from it.
    “If healthy conflict is modeled for children they can learn how to listen, problem solve and advocate for their own needs,” says Brown.

The Good Way to Fight: Rupture and Repair

Brown describes this healthy conflict as “Rupture and Repair,” a concept that refers to the breaking and restoring of connections with one another.
    “Since humans are wired for connection, and research shows connection is what brings us the most happiness, rupture and repair is a critical concept to learn,” she says.
    The reality is, it’s not possible to agree with your partner all of the time. Brown suggests having heated conversations in private, away from the kids but to look at a healthy argument as a learning opportunity. If your children pick up on a tense vibe in the home, acknowledge that rupture. Then let them know what you are doing to repair the situation with your partner.
    “If your child is not around to witness the repair, communicate how you worked it out so they start to learn about healthy ways to resolve conflict,” says Brown.
    Kids need to understand that a rupture in a relationship does not mean the end of the relationship, says Julie Foster, LISW-S, RN. Foster is an outpatient therapist for adolescents and at Lindner Center of Hope in Cincinnati.
    “Making up in front of kids shows them that relationships can have resilience,” says Foster. “Parents can make an effort to also show affection and admiration toward each other to help kids feel more secure in the parents’ relationship,” she says.

The Positive Side to Fighting

Finding a healthy balance in an argument — the good way to fight — can be difficult when emotions are high. But according to Foster, there are some very good outcomes to having an argument in front of your kids. Children who witness their parents having an argument develop a realistic view of relationships, she says. Kids need to understand that people often disagree on things and can still be in a healthy and happy relationship. Kids also need to learn that just because someone is mad at them, it doesn’t mean the relationship is over. Or that the other person will stop loving them.
    Foster says this includes kids understanding that when a parent gets mad at a child it doesn’t mean they stop loving them, either. This in turn helps kids build healthy relationships with friends. In addition, fighting in front of your children can teach them resolution and coping skills.
    “Children are watching us, so modeling how you address conflict in a healthy way lays the foundation for their future relationships,” says Brown.
    If you happen to have an explosive moment, Brown suggests saying, “I don’t like how we handled that.” Then add, “Next time I am angry with your dad, I am going to try to take a deep breath or go on a walk.” Brown says it is critical to broadcast how you are feeling and how you take care of yourself when you are overwhelmed. Your child will model this behavior when they are faced with the same situations.

 … and the Negative Side

Kids are aware. It doesn’t take much for them to get the pulse of a room, regardless of the words being spoken. Foster says kids will pick up on any sarcasm, criticism, disrespect and purposeful ignoring. If fighting is constant, it can create anxiety for kids, especially stirring up worries about the intactness of the family.
    “Kids might start wondering if the family will fall apart,” says Foster. “They need reassurance and proof that there is such a thing as fair fighting.”
    Ignoring your kids during a fight will not make the situation better, says Brown. Parents should pause the argument and address the kids in the room.
    “Parents need to acknowledge the disagreement and tell their kids it is OK to have differences in opinions or values,” she says. “Assure your children that you still care about your partner. And just like siblings you sometimes get into disagreements, but you still love them.”

 Keep Discussions Age Appropriate

Some common things that parents get wrong when fighting includes encouraging kids to take a side. Name calling, blaming, interrupting, yelling or bringing up irrelevant past issues should be avoided. Parents should also steer clear of issues that are too stressful for kids to understand. If the subject is too mature for the child, the discussion should be conducted in private.
    “Parents need to avoid turning their children into ‘little therapists,’” says Foster. “This creates internal conflicts of loyalty for the kids. Oversharing is a big complaint from kids when it comes to their parents.”

Conflicts WILL happen. But children need to see their parents make up and go on. Making up in front of your kids shows them that loving someone may not be perfect, but that love is resilient.

Conflicts WILL happen. But children need to see their parents make up and go on. Making up in front of your kids shows them that loving someone may not be perfect, but that love is resilient.

Healthy Ways to Manage Conflicts

Not sure how to address conflict with your partner in front of your kids? Although there is no perfect way to fight, Foster offers these suggestions:

— Use a gentle manner and speak for yourself, avoiding criticism, or condemnation. Listen fully to the other person before responding and validate their perspective.

— Take responsibility for your part by showing remorse and apologizing when it’s appropriate.

— Model self-soothing: take deep breaths, take a time-out, stop and think before speaking.

— Come to a resolution: avoid shutting down or giving the silent treatment and walking away.

— After the fight, show signs of love toward the other person.

— If you feel conflicts are impacting your children, seek individual or couples therapy depending on the circumstances. 


About the Author

Lisa Fletcher

Lisa Fletcher is a mother of four and a freelancer writer living in Cincinnati.