I’m concerned our kids might be affected by our arguing - what can we do?
Research has shown that children growing up amongst conflict such as violence/abuse but also including shouting/arguing are more likely to have mental health problems, learning difficulties, behavioural problems, abusive relationships, a tendency towards criminal activities, addiction to drugs and alcohol and suicidal thoughts. The reason for this is because their brain develops in a different way to a child who is not over-exposed to conflict. So it is certainly a serious issue, and it’s good to be aware of this and to take steps to protect our children. So how can we “fight fair” to prevent our children from suffering any ill effects?
The first step we can take is to avoid conflict escalating into arguing, shouting or worse. It’s helpful to remember our circumstances and how they affect our ability to communicate with our partner. For instance, sleep deprivation or changes in our family circumstance places extra stress and strain on us. It’s at times like this that we can have a tendency to “turn on each other” and become snappy simply because of being tired or stressed. It’s in those times that we should try to make more of an effort to control the urge to snap, and instead find times and ways that you might be able to talk out issues together, communicate needs, and find solutions that would help improve the situation.
Tips for avoiding arguments:
- Assign ‘baby care’ and household duties. When partners know what’s expected of them, things run more smoothly, so discuss these and be prepared to review them if it’s not working
- Start a discussion at the right time - not in the “heat of the moment”. Wait till you’ve calmed down and you have the energy and space to discuss it properly
- Listen to your partner’s concerns without cricising them
- Be honest but sensitive with how you word things
- Try and use “I” statements rather than “You” statements, eg. “I feel… because…” rather than “You always do this…”
- Try to keep focused on the issue rather than bringing up old ground (historical issues)
- Try to be clear about exactly what is upsetting you rather than being vague or trying to make your partner guess what is wrong because you’re too afraid to be honest
- Steer clear of generalisations such as “you’re always..” or “you never”. Try and put the emphasis on the action that you don’t like rather than making it personal. Make “neutral comments” rather than attacking the other person’s character
- Avoid swearing or name-calling
If you do happen to argue in front of your children, there are ways in which you can deal with it in a way that helps:
- Try and keep the above “conflict rules”
- Positive arguing can in fact teach children how to resolve conflict - remember that you are a role model to them - modelling childhood and adult relationships and what is “OK”
- Make sure your child sees you apologize to each other after the fight
- Be honest about your fighting. There is no use denying that there is a problem or pretending everything is OK. Children can become very anxious around conflict. Discussing/addressing it with your children helps relieve some of that anxiety. If your children have witnessed you arguing and not “fighting fair”, it is helpful to explain to your children what you did wrong and that you are sorry and what you intend to do to prevent it from happening again