Children hate conflict, especially when it involves important adults in their life. When parents have a heated argument, it’s often scary and can leave then feeling unsettled. Therefore whenever you fight in front of the kids, it’s extremely important that once everything has settled down, you take time to talk with your children a provide explanations for what occurred. Here are some guidelines for talking about family conflict:
1. Explain the conflict
Without saddling them with adult problems or rehashing every detail of a heated argument, give them a brief, age-appropriate summary of what the dispute was about.
2. Talk about your feelings
Talk to them about what you were feeling at the time and why you lost your temper. Explain what you’re feeling now, and how it may have changed. If you’re embarrassed about the way you acted, tell them so. Remind them that feelings don’t think, and sometimes people can get upset with each other without either person intending to make the other angry.
3. Explain that everyone argues from time to time
Reaffirm that all adults argue from time to time, just like kids sometimes get angry with their parents. In either case, this doesn’t mean that they’ve stopped loving each other. It means they’re upset and emotional at the time.
4. Discuss what you did wrong or how you could have done better.
In every argument there are things you could have done better, even if you were the lesser-fault party. So tell kids what you did wrong. Did you overreact? Forget to turn the other cheek? Raise your voice? Lose your temper? Talk about what went wrong and how you’ll try to do better in the future. This humility lets children know that you’re trying to get along, and it also provides and excellent model of conflict resolution for their own lives.
5. Apologize for what occurred
Say you’re sorry if the argument upset them. This will help them feel a lot better about the situation, and sets a good example.
6. Remind them that neither mom nor dad like to argue
This may seem self-evident, but it isn’t always to children. Kids who witness shooting or other violence, for example, often draw the perpetrator smiling, as if he is happy and enjoying himself. Children may also misinterpret their parents’ fighting and assume that they like to argue. Telling them otherwise provides comfort that the rules of empathy still apply – that love and kindness are what people strive for – even when they’re mad.