News flash: It’s OK to fight in front of the kids (as long as you also do this)

Did you know it could actually be beneficial to kids to see their parents fight? Well, it’s not actually the fighting itself that is beneficial, but if children witness their parents having an argument and then resolving the conflict, they are just as happy as they would be watching their parents have a friendly discussion!

I know, I’m just as shocked as you are. I bought into all that stuff about not letting the kids see you fight, just like everyone else. But the problem with taking your argument into the other room is that children are left knowing their parents are upset, but they have no idea how the situation was resolved. On the other hand, if they can witness the conflict AND it’s resolution, children are learning how to resolve conflicts, which is a pretty important skill for everyone.

Now I don’t mean to suggest that it’s good for kids to watch a conflict go unresolved. Children derive their sense of emotional security from the relationship between their parents (or the relationships between their primary caregivers). In fact, in “Nurture Shock” by Po Bronson, I read of a study by Dr. E. Mark Cummings from Notre Dame, in which he showed that the quality of the parents’ relationship had even MORE of an impact on the child than the direct relationship between parent and child! So when there’s tension in the air, you can be assured, they feel it. And it bothers them. And it isn’t good for them.

But the truth of the matter is that married couples typically have anywhere between 2 and 8 conflicts every single day. Granted, some of them are large and some are small, but clearly, kids are being exposed to these conflicts even with our best efforts to shield them from our arguments.

Instead of wasting precious energy keeping our kids away from our conflicts, let’s learn to consistently resolve them peacefully, so that our children can learn much needed conflict resolution skills and we can relax and live our lives WITH our kids, rather than attempting to hide our arguments from them. Studies are showing that arguments can actually get quite heated, and as long as they are resolved, children are happy, calm, and well adjusted.

So, how are your conflict resolution skills? A little rusty perhaps? If so, I highly recommend “Nonviolent Communication” by Marshall Rosenberg. The NVC skill set has completely changed my experience of conflict.

I used to be terrified of upsetting anyone and walked on eggshells around my more firey and expressive friends and family members, but now I see a conflict as an opportunity to get closer to my loved ones. By checking in about what has upset someone, I get to know them even better than I did before!

As with any technique or model, even NVC can be used violently, so if you do learn and practice it, be sure to check in with yourself about what your intentions are in every interaction. But if you genuinely want to reconnect after an argument, NVC is one of my favorite tools.

The one other thing that has made the biggest difference for me in my ability to reconnect and resolve conflict is willingness to be vulnerable and share what’s on my heart. I think any two people can reconnect if they’re willing to feel their hearts and share what’s happening for them in a responsible way (read no blaming or shaming).

So, have you had any big (or small) arguments lately and then resolved them in front of your kids? If so, I would love to hear all about it! Please leave me a comment.

And have a Happy Thanksgiving! Warm hugs, Shelly

8 comments
ConnieLujan
ConnieLujan

Connie @ @yourfriendkira @@JM_Cook @ @AwakeShelly

@AwakeShellyIt's taken me a few tries to figure out how to connect but I'm excited to be able to converse with three friends at the same time. Just to let you know a bit about me: I'm a grandmother, retired Montessori teacher and Director of Religious Education. I just had my book: Montessori--Living the Good Life, published. My author page at Face Book is www.facebook.com/MontessoriGood. My website with Blog is: www.montessoritheory.com. I have read Shelly's article and all your comments.

...Your advice and suggestions encouraging parents to not be attached to their feelings of guilt when multi-tasked days cause the inevitable family conflicts; and to feel okay about the kids witnessing these conflicts as long as they also witness the resolutions. . .I agree. I wish this advice had been popular thirty, forty years ago when I was raising my five sons.

..One hundred years ago, Maria Montessori, my guru, didn't talk much about kids. As a scientist, she was concerned about the child from conception to adulthood and their development and behavior. Her observations and experiences showed her the "secret of childhood" ,ie. . . . the child is not the little man; not the little adult. This is what my book is about . . . the child having the freedom to be an independent self.

...Most of us have acquired our basic behaviors, good or not so good, from our parents. Eighty percent or more of our basic learning happened by the time we were five or six, before we knew how to abstract. Reading, writing, and arithmetic were our tools teaching us how to abstract, how to rationalize, how to understand why mommy and daddy are arguing and why making love follows. This work of understanding is the work of the child becoming an adult, not the work of a little adult becoming a big adult. 

...The newborn, infant, or young child does not understand intelligently the environment of people, things, sounds, smells, etc., that surround them--their work is to imitate what their senses are taking in. The movement of their bodies, senses, educate their minds and aids in creating their intelligence which furthers their work toward becoming adults.

...What does the baby, the infant, or toddler do in the presence of arguing parents? They cry or have a tantrum. The older child (kids) capable of rationalizing and learning from his own conflicts--the square block doesn't fit the round hole--can hopefully reason to conflicts and resolution; but he does so with his intelligence. The child, the kid, is becoming an adult. This is the miracle of childhood and why we can hope for peace in our homes, schools, and country when we give the child his due respect. 

ConnieLujan
ConnieLujan

Hi Shelly,

...Thanks for sharing your blog on conflict resolution. I was 45 or so before I got it figured out. If you read my book, Montessori-Living the Good Life, you will know I had problems that led to my divorce. Maria Montessori would have been disappointed in me yet hopeful for my children. I was a silent, prayerful parent. I appreciate your website for parents. You are right on and I hope to blog about your parent perspectives.

...But . . . and this is where my passion is . . . The child from birth to three is absorbing their environment and living out of their innocence, creating a world, a new world of their own; a world that will manifest whatever environment is present to them. This is the 'secret of childhood' that Maria wants parents to appreciate.  The young infant and toddler have not acquired adult reasoning or understanding of the whys of conflicts. By three they are only beginning to have the mental capacity to reason or understand conflict resolution. Their work is to create a new world without wars, without conflict. Soon enough as their intelligence matures, when they learn to read, then parents have a ground to begin explaining and modeling the reality of the adult world and train them how to deal with conflict. 

...Maria Montessori was a scientist who observed the child from conception to adulthood. Her observations and experiences led her to be a very spiritual person as she became aware of the work of the children. She believed that if parents were educated to respect the secret life of children that they would share in the energy and reality of their love and we would have more mature adults in our world to make decisions about war and peace.

...I'm sure you are aware of the innocence of the infant and toddler; but in your article you speak of kids like maybe they include all ages. I wish you would read my book, "Montessori--Living the Good Life". I know it is a bit idealistic but I've tried to be true to Maria Montessori's understanding of the child. I also write of the work of the adult and some memoir of my path to conflict resolution.

...If you haven't already you might want to check out my website blog: www.montessoritheory.com and comment on my Author page @ www.facebook.com/MontessoriGood.

 

yourfriendkira
yourfriendkira

What you say feels so right! When I first read Nurture Shock my husband and I talked about this-- he is fairly uncomfortable with conflict and I am not-- providing that we model healthy conflict and resolution. We’ve even had arguments in front of the kids about this!

Being a talker, I usually am very wordy when I'm upset, and I'm able to say exactly what's bothering me and why. This feels like healthy conflict to me. Many times, we realize that our mood just before the argument made something seem worse, or that the thing we are arguing about simply isn’t a big deal in the long run.

I find that the moment I see the kids reacting to us it usually shifts me into resolution mode. The other day my husband and I were having a heated discussion-- he was trying to explain something and and I was asking him not to-- my daughter started drawing a picture of herself and the two of us with lots of hearts-- that immediately snapped me out of it. Our usual next stuff, even in the heat of the moment, to re-cap the situation, and then offer a way to resolve the situation. As we resolved and explained to her at the same time, it was clear that she was affected, yet understood. In this case, my husband said something that was true, and very funny, and we all wound up hugging and laughing.

This process (not always with laughter) mirrors how we help our kids resolve conflicts-- helping them with the language-- saying how we feel, asking for what we need, and offering what we can to help resolve the issue at hand. Conflicts are always going to arise-- being able to navigate them takes practice-- and what better place to practice than at home with the people who love you the most!

JM_Cook
JM_Cook

I've always been uncomfortable with the idea that we can protect our children from the unpleasant things in life including, at times, ourselves and our relationships with our spouses.

I think it's healthy for children to know that people have negative emotions as well as positive ones, that they get upset, argue and have hurt feelings as long as they also see that those things are temporary, they get resolved and we move beyond them.

If we don't become the role-models for fighting and making up, then who will be? And, perhaps more importantly, we need our children to see that even when parents are mad at each other they can still work together.

Trackbacks

  1. […] have shown that children can handle exposure to intense emotion without long-term negative effects, as long as they also experience a de-escalation and resolution […]