Turn a Fight With Your Partner Into a Positive Experience
These three scenarios can act as actually terrific modeling for your child
Posted Feb 12, 2019
"Dr. Laura....In your last post, you said that when parents fight in front of their children, it makes the children anxious. But I read that fighting is fine as long as you "make up" afterward and the kids see that."
It sounds like you're referring to the research by Mark Cummings, reported in Po Bronson's book Nurture Shock. Bronson reports that as long as parents "made up" with each other afterwards, the children easily recovered from the incident.
BUT as Bronson says, and as Cummings the researcher stressed, the parents in this research were disagreeing, not yelling. And there was no disrespect or insult in these scripted encounters. So this does NOT apply to yelling and disrespect between parents, which Cummings has previously established, with repeated research, is definitely damaging to kids.
In these studies Cummings wanted to find out whether "plain old everyday conflict" -- just ordinary non-yelling disagreement -- was also a problem. So he scripted encounters in which the parents had a difference of opinion but did not yell at each other. As it turned out, even these disagreements were very upsetting to the children who witnessed them. So yes, even non-yelling disagreements where parents are in conflict are hard on kids.
Happily, though -- and this is the hopeful research you're referring to -- when the children also saw the adults "resolving" the argument with affection, the kids were fine afterwards.
So the takeaway is that any time you have any disagreement -- even without yelling -- with your partner in front of your child, it's essential that you affectionately and explicitly "repair" the relationship.
These scenarios are actually terrific modeling for your child:
1. One parent snaps at the other, then immediately course corrects: “I’m so sorry – I’m just feeling stressed – can we try that over? What I meant to say was…” Kids learn from this modeling that anyone can get angry, but that we can take responsibility for our own emotions, apologize, and re-connect. You'll see your child start to apologize and course correct, too.
2. Parents work through a difference of opinion without getting triggered and raising their voices. For instance, if you and your partner have a good-natured discussion about who should clean the toilet or whether to buy a new car, your child learns that humans who live together can have different needs and opinions, listen to each other, and work toward a win/win decision – all respectfully and with affection.
3. Parents notice that they have a conflict brewing and agree to discuss it later. Hopefully, this happens before there’s any yelling -- or you’ll be modeling yelling. And hopefully, you can close the interaction with a big, public, hug. If you're too mad, take some space to calm down and then prioritize the hug in front of your child, with a family mantra like “It’s okay to get mad.... You can be mad at someone and still love them at the same time .… We always work things out.” This takes maturity, but it models self-regulation and repair. And it's crucial to restoring your child's sense of safety.
Bottom line: All couples have disagreements, but adult fierceness is always scary to kids. Children will recover if we handle our disagreements with respect and good will, looking for solutions instead of blame. If we yell or express disrespect, it's an emotional risk factor for children, and simply "making up" in front of the child does not ameliorate the negative effects.
And of course, respect and refraining from yelling is best for our partnerships, too. Anger is a message to us about what we need. There's always a way to ask for what we need without attacking the other person. It's never appropriate to dump anger on another person, in front of your kids or not.
Not so easy to do? You're right. Most of us never learned how to manage our own emotions, express our needs without attacking, and handle conflict in a healthy way.
But every couple can learn healthy conflict resolution. And you can repair things with your children if you've been fighting in front of them. We'll get into these questions in our next post:
12 Keys To Healthy Partnership Conflict Resolution When you Live With Kids
The only thing harder than single parenting is raising a child with another person. You can count on disagreements! In this Self-Paced Audio Parenting Class (5 hours), you get five instantly downloadable audio modules to support you in developing a terrific parenting partnership.
#1 - Introduction: How to combine a rewarding romantic relationship with raising wonderful kids.
#2 – Handling conflict with your partner so it brings you closer.
#3 – Regulating your emotions to transform your relationship.
#4 – Staying connected with your partner when the baby is crying and the kids are screaming.
#5- Bonus: I've Got Your Back: How to create a terrific parenting team.
For more info on the Conscious Co-Parenting Course