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Five Tips for Resolving Conflicts in Front of the Kids

As with everything else you do as a parent, how, where and when you argue with your partner impacts your children. Of course, disagreements aren’t planned and often don’t happen behind closed doors, when the kids are out of the house, or asleep. So, how do you handle it when your children see, or hear, conflict in your relationship?

When we talk about conflict, I’m not talking about a disagreement over whose turn it is to take out the trash. I’m referring to hostility that’s not easily resolved in the moment. E. Mark Cummings, a psychologist at Notre Dame University, has done extensive research and writing about the impact of marital conflict on kids. He believes that “conflict is a normal part of everyday experience, so it’s not whether parents fight that is important. It’s how the conflict is expressed and resolved, and especially how it makes children feel that has important consequences for children.” Kids sense how parents are with one another, even when conflict is not overt. They register long term, unexpressed resentment and know, on some level, that something is wrong. Cummings’ found that “kids can tell the difference between a resolution that’s been forced versus one that’s resolved with positive emotion, and it matters.”

It is healthy for children to witness their parents fighting because conflict is a normal part of any couple´s relationship. But, children shouldn’t be exposed to serious pàrental discord, especially on a regular basis. So keep these things in mind, next time conflict arises at home:

  1. Put yourself in your child’s shoes. Witnessing parents fight can be disconcerting and even frightening. If an argument starts to escalate into a heated conflict, agree with your partner to take up the issue when the kids aren’t in the room with you.
  2. Model perspective-taking and reflective listening. Sometimes it’s challenging to hear your partner’s point of view during a disagreement. But, do try. Let your child see how you can be angry without being verbally abusive, attacking or disrespectful. Do your best to reflect back what you hear your partner saying to you.
  3. Model negotiation and compromise. While this is not always easy to do, it is a goal to aspire to. Remember, you are on the same team.
  4. Let your kids know that parents who love each other argue. Reassure your child that all couples have arguments. All Moms and Dads fight and they still love one another.
  5. Remember that it is more important to listen than it is to be right. Kids who see their parents fight and come to a resolution learn that even when you are mad, you can still listen to one another’s hurt feelings and come to an understanding. I like this quote, although I’m not sure who said it – “Apologizing does not always mean that you’re wrong and the other person is right. It just means that you value your relationship more than your ego”.

Ultimately, the most important thing to keep in mind is that home should be a place where kids feel safe and secure. Handling conflict in a healthy way is not only the best thing for your children, it also helps build a solid foundation for your relationship.

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