This week, I have read (again) an alarming statistic about the rate of divorce and the devastating effect of divorce on children. When I think about my parents, I know I need to thank them in every way I can for being able to handle all the conflicts between them and reach their 50th anniversary.
Conflicts between parents are inevitable. After all, Mom and Dad are two separate people, coming from different backgrounds and sharing life together – a house, romance, kids and finances – in hope of making it the best experience ever.
In research done in 1982 (R.E. Emery) and 1990 (E. Mark), it was found that even young kids are strongly hurt by their parents’ conflicts. It is actually possible to measure parents’ anger through their kids’ psychological, behavioral an emotional state. When I worked with groups of 2-4 year-olds, I could tell when there was tension at home or when one of the parents was away from home.
Research has found that kids are naturally sensitive to conflicts and arguments. When shown a video of adults communicating non-verbally, kids could accurately tell if the couple has a conflict or not between them.
Kids are like monkeys. If you teach them to handle disagreements by being a good role model, you can help them enjoy life and to cope and accept the experiences in life as they come.
It is impossible to avoid disagreements between parents and it is important to remember that even best friends or people who love each other very much have conflicts and disagreements. The answer is not to avoid the disagreements, but to learn how to handle them in a way that kids will copy successfully.
Rules to teach conflict resolution
Rule #1 – Relax
When in conflict, take time to calm down. If you do this when you are in conflict with your partner, your kids will copy this behavior when they have conflicts. Use expressions like “Let’s talk about it when we are calm” and “I suggest we both think about it in a relaxed way before making that decision”. Kids are small mirrors, so take advantage of it.
Rule #2 – Communicate directly
When you are in conflict with your partner, do not use the kids as a sounding board to vent your frustration. Tell your partner what you think, feel and want rather than getting the kids’ sympathy for your troubles and misery. Watch your words. When you say “Your father…” or “Your mother…” in a negative way, you are using a third person to communicate with your partner. Kids in this position are victims and find it very stressful. They will feel they are standing in the middle between their parents and take on themselves responsibilities for your conflicts they cannot handle.
And never ever ask your kids to choose sides!
Rule #3 – Control your actions
When you argue with your partner or with your kids, stay calm and avoid using any physical aggression. Kids who watch their parents use physical aggression – throwing things, slamming doors, breaking things or hurting themselves or others – will feel threatened and later will use physical violence in their disagreements.
Rule #4 – Avoid name-calling and swearing
When you are in a conflict with your partner, avoid using labels or swear words in front of your kids. Kids who hear their parents talk like this to each other, think that calling names and swearing are acceptable ways to handle conflicts. Nobody likes to be called “a pig”, “stingy”, “lazy” or any other negative name. Their typical response would be to withdraw or get upset, which is not what you want. Instead, describe how you interpret your partner’s actions and how you feel about them. Just like monkeys, your kids will mimic you without filters, so watch what you say.
Rule #5 – Kiss and make up
After every conflict, show your kids you also make up with your partner, hug and kiss and give the kids the message that you can be in conflict or disagree on something but you still love each other. Even when you are in conflict with your kids, you can say, “I love you, but I am angry about what you did” to reassure them that anger, disagreements and conflicts are cannot destroy the love between you.
Rule #6 – Get a room
If you can, try to have your disagreements away from your kids. They will sense that you are in conflict and it will be hard and even impossible to hide this from them completely, but if you keep the exchange of words away from the little monkeys, it will be harder for them to copy you.
Remember, kids are like monkeys – “monkey see, monkey do”. If we want our kids to grow up knowing how to handle their conflicts and disagreements, we need to teach them how to do it and there is no better way than doing it ourselves.