Once you become a parent you realize how important it is to stop fighting in front of your children. There is truly no worse feeling than having a fight with your husband with your kids close by!
And while I know no one wants to fight in front of our children, somehow it happens.
Even to me, and I know better!!
THE MOST IMPORTANT REASON TO STOP FIGHTING IN FRONT OF YOUR CHILDREN
Our children are little sponges, they absorb everything around them. From a very young age, they can pick up on our energy. Even if they don’t know what we’re saying or exactly what’s happening, they can feel the tension, aggression, and anger, which can make them feel anxious and unsafe.
As children grow older, they watch our every move and interaction. In my house, even a passionate discussion between my husband and me about a silly topic (something unrelated to our marriage) can lead our little guys to say things like, “Take a deep breath!” or “Calm down”.
Of course, this makes me smile because this is what we teach them to do when they are worked up! So hearing them say it to us when we get “emotional” in a conversation is a sure sign that they are listening to everything we say and are taking it ALL in.
TEACH HEALTHY CONFLICT RESOLUTION
In order to help our children learn how to resolve conflict, we have to practice what we preach. Meaning, my husband and I have to be aware of our own behaviors. We have to be mindful of our volume and tone. We have to practice pausing arguments that cannot be resolved in a healthy manner in front of our children. And we have to allow them to witness a repair if they witnessed a fight.
While pausing an argument or even resolving conflict in front of your children can seem difficult at first, it doesn’t have to be. With practice and commitment, and the most powerful motivator (YOUR CHILDREN’S WELL-BEING), you and your husband can learn to avoid having toxic interactions in front of your kids.
HOW TO STOP FIGHTING IN FRONT OF YOUR CHILDREN:
1. Stop Trying to Win the Argument – Let go of your desire to prove your point, “win” the argument, or get the last word in. These behaviors will not only prevent conflict resolution, but will actually dig the two of you deeper into the conflict and escalate emotions.
Trying to prove your point prevents you from hearing each other’s feelings and needs (see below) and keeps the conversation heated and at an intellectual level, which does not lead to healthy conflict resolution.
Additionally, when you try to “win” the argument or get in the last word, you are role-model a “talking back” type behavior to your children, which is not ideal!
2. Be Clear and Direct with Your Needs – As mentioned above, instead of trying to prove your point or get the last word in, practice expressing your NEED. This means that you have to 1) know what you are TRULY upset about (a vulnerable emotion is the root of any argument – feeling hurt, lonely, disappointed, etc) and 2) know your SPECIFIC NEED (i.e. time, communication, physical affection).
Ultimately, the best way to shift from an argument into a productive conversation is to be clear with your feelings and needs and to say something like, “I feel lonely (FEELING) when you get home late from work. Can you make more of an effort to be home around dinnertime (NEED) or better communicate with me if you are going to be late (NEED)?”
This type of communication cuts right to the core issue, as feelings and needs are at the root of ALL arguments.
3. Have a Code Word – Sometimes you just need to pause the argument and return to it at a later time when your children are not present. The simplest way to pause an argument is to identify a code word that both of you agree to say when things are getting out of control.
Choose a random word that is rarely used in a conversation like, “CUPCAKE” or “SAILBOAT” or “YELLOWSTONE” and make a pact that if someone uses the code word, the argument must be paused until a later time.
Once one of you says the code word and you’re able to pause the argument, identify a time to return to the conversation (i.e. in 1 hour, after the kids go to bed, during naps) so that the issue does not get swept under the rug.
During your break from the conversation, do something that will help reduce your anger and anxiety. DO NOT focus on how to “win” the argument. Instead, think about your feelings and needs.
4. Take Deep Breaths – When you’re trying to end an argument or pause an argument, it is important to learn how to manage your emotions. Many people become angry or “see RED” during a fight, which only escalates the discussion.
In order to de-escalate, practice taking deep breaths when emotions start to run high. When you start to feel angry, breathe. If you feel like yelling at your husband, breathe.
If your children are with you and the conversation begins to get out of hand, pause together as a FAMILY and take 5 deep breaths together as a family. This will help to shift the energy, decrease anxiety, and help your children to start to feel safe again.
(BONUS: This is a GREAT coping skill to role-model to your children. When they get emotionally overwhelmed, it is always helpful to have them take some deep breaths and practicing together as a family will definitely help!)
5. Repair In Front of Them – At the end of the day, if an argument or heated discussion does take place in front of your children, the MOST important step you can take is to allow them to see you repair or to let them know you have repaired and that everything is okay.
A repair in front of your children could be as simple as a hug and kiss in front of them, mutual apologies they witness, or a short conversation directly with them (i.e. “Mommy and Daddy are sorry they got angry. We apologized to one another and still love each other.” Then kiss and hug to solidify the repair.)
Letting your children know that mom and dad are still a strong unit after the conflict has resolved will make them feel safe and teach them another important conflict resolution skill.
QUICK RECAP: You and your husband are going to have arguments, that is just part of marriage. But learning how to stop fighting in front of your children is super important! Follow the steps above, practice together, and soon you’ll realize that it is possible to pause or even resolve conflict in a healthy manner when your children are present.