Conflict is a normal part of any relationship. And unavoidable at times. Even though fights are stressful for all, parents do not need to worry about trying to avoid fighting in front of their kids. Seeing parents fight can actually be a good thing. When done correctly.
Rather than fighting, we like to call it constructive discussions.
What’s not helpful? When parents fight all the time; the fights are intense, hostile, destructive, demeaning, and/or abusive (whether physically or verbally); the fight is over the children or parenting; and when parents stonewall or storm off without any resolution. Watching these sorts of fights can be harmful to children and contributes to lots of distressing emotions like anxiety, anger, and sadness. They can also affect their sleep, school success, attention, and peer relationships. When there is high conflict in the home, children are at risk for lifelong social, emotional, and even physical health problems.
Giving in to end the fight can be even more problematic. Kids understand the fighting but get confused when parents withdraw because kids still know something is wrong. Even if you pretend everything is okay, they know you’re pretending. And, they never have models to show them how to handle the conflict. Pretending doesn’t help them, nor the parents’ relationship either.
The key is to ensure all arguments are well-regulated and that both parents remain connected. While we talk about conflict resolution, it is not about getting our way. The most important part of the argument is that both parties feel heard and understood. Therefore, it is critical that both parents listen to one another, acknowledge the other’s feelings and perspectives without judgment, and then collaborating with ideas to solve the problem. Caroline and her husband Andrew model an example of how to argue constructively in their podcast Parents of the Year.
Here are 8 tips on how to argue in constructive ways that are not harmful and can even promote kids’ development and skill-building.