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Recently I posted a blog entry about friendship that I read in a parenting magazine…well here’s another blog-worthy article for ya! This one is actually pretty current (from Parents magazine, the August 2010 issue) and it’s about an issue I know ALL of us deal with but yet don’t discuss: arguing in front of our kids. I know in our household we swore we’d never do it but c’mon let’s be realistic: it’s GONNA happen! There is no avoiding it. When you disagree you’re going to say something in front of your kid about it. You can’t help yourself. I have always beat myself up over it and feel a LOT of guilt for the times Zach and I disagree in front of Kye. I just personally feel like it’s so important for Kye (and all our future kids) to see happy, loving, smiley parents. Maybe growing up in a divorced home makes me think it’s really critical for my children to know what a happy marriage looks like? Well guess what kiddos…a happy marriage doesn’t mean fake smiles and constant kissing – happy couples ARGUE too! That’s why I loved this article, it made me feel a lot less guilty for disagreeing with Zach in front of Kye and gave me some good pointers on how to do it in a healthy way. I know you’re dying to read-on so I’ll get started!
Here’s the stuff that makes you feel guilty:
- even at 6 months old children are acutely sensitive to all types of conflicts including bickering, hostility, and defensiveness
- blood pressure in infants actually rises when parents argue within ear shot, they may not understand the words but they register the conflict and try to figure out what it means
- when parents get along a child’s sense of security deepens and he can confidently explore and learn about his world
- frequent, unresolved fighting chips away at that confidence, triggering sadness, anxiety and fear in children of all ages
Here’s the parts that make that guilt fade (at least slightly):
- kids need to know that happy couples can disagree and that anger is a normal legitimate emotion
- arguments are a part of life and it’s important for them to see that just because you argue it doesn’t mean that you don’t like each other or that you’re going to get a divorce
- if children never learn how to verbalize their true feelings they may grow up squashing them or believing that conflicts can never be resolved constructively
- if you have all your fights behind closed doors or say “we’re not fighting” when you really are then they won’t learn to trust their own perceptions or you for that matter
- by taking responsibility for the part you each played in any argument and making sure the kids know the quarrel wasn’t their fault they will learn that arguments may be laced with hot emotions but that they also lead to solutions
Here’s how different age groups of children view arguments between their parents:
- Babies and Toddlers: They tune in to tone and body language as well as to the emotional undercurrent of the conversation. Your child can sense that two people he loves are yelling at each other so slow down and lower your voice. Give a group hug, smile and look your child in the eyes while saying “it’s okay! mommy and daddy still love each other.”
- Preschoolers: At this age they may think they caused the problem so reassure them otherwise
- School-Age Kids: Kids over 5 or 6 may sometimes assume the worst (divorce) if quarrels go unresolved. Kids in high-conflict homes may suffer from anxiety, depression and sleep disorders. They can have trouble paying attention in school and getting along with friends. It’s important to acknowledge the disagreement and report the resolution, when possible. When there is no resolution, don’t mislead your child, but explain that even working to resolve the issue helps everyone in the family.
Obviously the best way to insure against esculating arguments is preventing them in the first place. Name-calling, shouting, cursing, sarcasm, and demeaning comments shouldn’t be allowed as well as anything physical (shoving, slamming doors) or threatening divorce. When arguments do arise here are some steps to take to help keep it calm:
- lower your anger ceilings: Each person has a level of aggression we will tolerate in a relationship the key is to recognize the signals your body is sending before the conversation becomes excessively heated. Is your anger building up to a point where you’re no longer being productive? are you talking louder? Is your stomach churning? Your mind only focused on what your spouse is doing wrong? Dial down the tension by taking a break: get a drink of water, flip through a magazine and then resume the conversation when you feel calm again. If you’re in the car or crunched for time then change the subject and agree to get back to the issue later. You may think your kids aren’t listening but they are so make an agreement if that argument pops up to just hit the pause button!
- take notes: Until you can continue the discussion jot down the points you want to make. The simple act of writing can help organize thoughts and bring clarity to an issue. You’ll be better prepared to speak calmly when you reopen the discussion.
- take issue with the behavior, not the person: Always start a conversation with using “I” statements that describe how you feel about something “I get upset when you ____.” Stick to one topic at a time and, as you’ve heard before, delete the words “always” and “never” from your vocabulary. Generalizing puts your partner on the defensive, adding fuel to the fire.
- don’t force your kids to referee: All they want is a cease-fire. Children should never have to divide their loyalties. When you start hearing “Mommy don’t be mad at Daddy,” it’s a red flag that you need to tone it down.
- don’t try to “win”: Think of arguments as objectively as possible: they are simply problems to be solved. When you respond respectfully to each other’s viewpoint, kids see that there’s more than one solution to a problem – and that compromise is not a bad thing.
- be sensitive to signs of kid stress: Kids show their anxiety in different ways some withdraw when they hear conflict (cover their ears or run away), some act our at home or school, some rush to the defense of one parent of the other. One great tip is that if something matters more to one parent than the other is to simply decide whoever cares most about the issue gets his or her way.
This article was an eye-opener for me because I realized a lot of it was talking to ME! Zach and I don’t hardcore fight hardly ever, and the most we do in front of Kye is “innocent” bickering, but I realize now that even that could affect him and that my sarcasm isn’t too great either. I LOVED the tips as I know personally I will feel my anger start to rise in my body so during those times I need to just take a break. And I think writing down feelings to discuss later is a GREAT idea as I know I’ve joked that I wish we could do all our arguing through text messaging. I say this b/c I feel like when we argue through texts it gets resolved quicker and I do a better job of relaying my feelings. Duh! It’s because when you text-fight (that’s a legit thing right???) you have to really think about what you are saying instead of just saying it without thinking. I’m the QUEEN of just spouting off random junk that doesn’t even fit in the argument and if I get really mad and past my breaking point then I’ll just say a bunch of MEAN stuff for no other reason than just to be mean! I need to work on that and I think recognzing my bodies cues and taking that break will really help. In front of Kye or even when it’s just Zach and I, healthy arguing is important to a relationship.
Personally I cannot STAND when couples say “we never fight.” To me, if you haven’t ever fought then your relationship isn’t real. If you argue then you care enough about each other to work out your differences, and through those trying times you’re able to grow as a couple in the relatonship. Zach and I wouldn’t be half as the awesome couple we are today (and duh, we’re pretty awesome) if it weren’t for all the tough times we’ve had in the past. I also know we’ll be even a stronger couple in the future from the issues we deal with now! I’m thankful for those arguments as opportuinties to grow stronger and I’m thankful to this article for helping me make those trying times healthier within my relationship and for my child. Hope this has helped some of you as well 🙂