Let’s talk about fights, arguments, yelling, and any bit of conflict that you, as a parent are engaging on in front of your child.
Wait! Before we do. A little honesty goes a long way.
I think it’s fair to say that it can be really “really” difficult not to “want to” engage in a verbal dispute with your significant other. Sometimes the right buttons are pushed and you are ready to get after it. The article below is not meant to post fingers but to shed light on something that is taking place. If you feel “bad” for arguing in front of your kids, don’t. Instead, feel joyful in your ability to want to make a positive change.
In my professional experience I have had what seems like too many clients come and see me due to their child exhibiting new “negative” behaviors. These new behaviors are more than often seen as the child being more quiet, shy, non-talkative, and withdrawn from the family. As the therapist, I ask the parent(s) the magic question, “If you could pick one thing that caused this change in your child what would it be.” The answers are often, “Maybe someone in school is bullying them,” or “I don’t know,” or just a blank stare as they wait for me to provide them with some insight that can solve their problems. The answer isn’t always easy for parents to see.
Let’s focus on the case study below:
Jane’s mother, Sarah , has sought counseling to help her daughter with depressive behaviors: isolation, avoidance from family, and not engaging in activities that she previously engaged in. Jane is an 11 year-old female living with her mother and father. Jane has no history of receiving counseling services. Jane’s mother and father disclosed to the therapist that they are not sure why Jane is exhibiting her behaviors. Jane during the first few months of counseling disclosed she does not like when her father yells at her mother because it makes her mother cry. Jane further disclosed that her parents “always fight and yell so loud that she hears everything.” Jane’s mother and father, during their parenting sessions, disclosed that they do argue but they close the door so that Jane does not hear them or see what is taking place.
Cases like the one above can be very difficult for a parent to resolve for the sole purpose of longevity. Why is Jane now displaying the behaviors and not in the past?
To some readers it would seem that the right answer would be to look elsewhere, to look towards other reasons why Jane is displaying her behaviors. As parents your lives are consumed through all of the different responsibilities you play. You, as a parent, have many roles within your one gigantic hat; you are a parent, friend, role model, money maker, maid, etc. I honestly do not think the roles end; instead they continue to add on and on. With so many roles in your life, it can be very easy become blinded by those who are most close to you.
In this case study, Jane’s parents have been engaging in arguments and verbal fights that have been witnessed by their daughter Jane for years. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying keep your friends close but your enemies closer. Well in a metaphorical way, it’s very similar to that. You should be working towards keeping a strong observant eye over your children in every way possible.
Based on the case study the parents are a few steps behind the game. However, this in no way dictates that you are at a loss. Please remember, there are a few secrets in counseling; in this case one is communication and the other relationship. Using communication and relationship you as the parent can rebuild the past and continue on a healthier path with your child.
– Start by taking a step back and reflecting on your behaviors that you and others in society would see as damaging. The behavior from the case study is the parents fighting and arguing in front of their child. Please try to take active time to reflect upon how you are living your life. Think about what your child can see or hear.
– Using empathy place yourself within your child’s shoes. While in their shoes try to be them, think as they would, feel what they would feel, and react as they would. Try to imagine yourself as your child watching mom and dad argue. You are witnessing two people who, since your earliest age of understanding, were role models, your instructors for right and wrong, your mom and dad.
– Communicate and re-connect with your child in order to allow them time and space to communicate why they have been displaying their behaviors. This can be done by discussing the changes you have observed. During this phase your child should be communicating his feelings in some form, it could be through three routes: passive, positive, or negative.
In passive, your child hears you but they are not making it a point to make changes. With passive, I recommend to give your child time, while making sure to repeat that you empathize with him.
Positive means that your child is hearing what you are saying and responding by telling you the reason or reasons that she is displaying her behaviors.
Negative is seen when your child will lash out or act by yelling or arguing. Negative can be seen in a statement such as, “This is your entire fault.” The great thing about negative is that you as the parent can listen and be very observant to find out why your child is displaying the behaviors. For instance, if your child behaves negatively when you are communicating with him by telling you, “This is your entire fault,” you could internalize this by being empathetic towards them. When displaying empathy, you can easily transition into the phase below.
– Communicate with your child and explain to them in direct words the error you have committed. For instance, “Son or Daughter, I want you to know that your father and I are very sorry for arguing in front of you. We both want you to know that we should not have argued in front of you, that is not something that you should have seen or continue to see. It is also important for you to understand that we both love and care for each other very deeply.”
This statement is clear, direct and highlights that you as the parent are (1) in the wrong for arguing in front of your child (2) educating your child on how it will no longer take place (3) educating and reassuring your child that their mother and father still love and care for each other.
The reason I mentioned the third point (loving and caring for each other) is for reassurance. Your child, just as the average person, tends to parallel a behavior with a notion in their mind. For instance, arguing with anger or a smiling face with happiness. If you as the parent, simply tell your child that they were wrong and will no longer do it then that still leaves out justification and the needed reassurance for your child to have peace of mind.
– Practice what you preach. Make sure that you as the parents are doing what you told your son or daughter you would do.
– Find a secret method to escape in order to engage in your debates. I have recommended parents to use code words, such as, “Let’s get some coffee.” Be creative and find something that works for you and your partner. This is usually the common one that parents think about when considering boundaries. Parents feel that if they make sure to lock the door or argue outside of the home then the child will be protected by it and in turn not involved in the conflict.
Hoping that you enjoyed the article on “how to stop fighting in front of your child”. If you would like to ask further questions or inquire about counseling support please call 336-707-1723 or email.
cover image by matthew wieve of unplash