Why are you fighting?” That’s the question one little girl posed to her parents at the dinner table as they were in the midst of a heated discussion about what needed to happen after dinner. How do you talk with your children about why parents fight? 

It’s pretty much a given that parents will get sideways with each other in front of the kids. Sometimes it’s about something ridiculous and other times it’s something of a more adult nature. Here’s the thing: whether it is something small or something that really matters, how you fight impacts your children. Children do not like conflict. 

Witnessing your parents have an argument can be very scary and unsettling for children of any age. Here are some tips for talking with your children about why parents fight.

  • Check your own emotional temperature. It’s very important to be emotionally-aware for yourself and for your child. Before you talk with your child about the reasons parents might fight, you’ll probably want to make sure you’re emotionally ready for it. For instance, right after a fight might not be the best time to have the discussion. When you take the time to cool down before approaching your child, you are practicing emotional regulation, which is a very important skill for both you and your child. When you talk with your child, be specific about the emotions they might be feeling right now. They could be experiencing fear, sadness or worry, among other things. Helping them to put names to what they are feeling will help build their emotional intelligence. It also helps them learn how to process through an experience.  
  • Keep it age appropriate. Everyone experiences conflict from time to time. Remind them about the time they didn’t want to share their toy with their sibling or when they were angry with one of you for not letting them do something. That’s a disagreement, too. Sometimes parents fight when they have different opinions about things, they are upset about something from work or they are tired, have a lot going on, or aren’t feeling well. Help them see that healthy disagreements are normal in families.
  • Discuss feelings and tone of voice. There are times when parents argue that their tone of voice sounds mean, angry and loud. These moments can be very stressful for children. Literally, researchers have measured cortisol (the stress hormone) in children’s bodies and have found that even infants respond to their parents’ fighting. This could be a time when you apologize for the way you expressed your emotions and use it as a teachable moment to talk about how what we say and do when we are angry or upset with each other impacts everyone in the family. We all make mistakes. The goal is to learn how to do things differently the next time you have a disagreement.
  • Reassure your child that you love them and that your desire is to work things out. If possible, let them see you resolve the issue together. If you are fighting about an ongoing issue that is creating significant angst in your marriage, be careful what you share with your children as you do not want to say things that are untrue or will paint your spouse in a bad light. You might tell them that you are asking for help to solve your problem if you cannot resolve it on your own.

Fighting scares children. As a parent, helping them to see that disagreements are part of being in a relationship and letting them know that just because parents are fighting, it doesn’t mean they are going to get divorced can help settle their anxiety. Teaching and modeling what healthy conflict looks like decreases drama in your home. It also prepares children for healthy relationships in the future.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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