Podcast: Play in new window | Download
I hated this when my parents did it. My kids hated it when we did it too. When I talk with kids in my office, this is the one thing they dislike the most about their parents.
Conflict is normal
Conflict is normal. How it is expressed, resolved, and managed determines the level of effect it has on kids growing up in the environment.
Parents who resolve conflict quickly and respectfully model positive behavior on conflict-resolution, which is actually good for kids to see.
If you constantly fight it creates instability in the family environment. Whether it’s in front of the kids or not, they will detect it and will feel distress.
Destructive fighting – screaming, threats to leave, name-calling, physical aggression, and cold war tactics all are extremely damaging to kids. Cold war (non-verbal) and other forms of avoidant behavior in couples have even more negative effect on kids. Hostility they can see. Avoidance indicates something is wrong but they don’t know what it is, but they feel it and it scares them.
How does constant fighting impact kids?
Parents who fight often place strain on family relationships. Kids may not say much, but don’t think for a moment that it doesn’t affect them.
A 2002 UCLA study found that kids who grew up on a home with constant fighting had more physical, emotional, and social problems in adulthood than kids in a control group.
Here are 10 ways constant fighting impacts kids:
In a book on the effect marital conflict has on children and teens, author E. Mark Cummings wrote “kids don’t get used to it” (Marital Conflict and Children: An Emotional Security Perspective)
- Kids become distraught, anxious, and worried about the marriage.
- Some kids disengage, withdraw, and isolate from the family.
- Some kids try to get in the middle as ref or peacemaker.
- Other kids may act out in disruptive behavior on parents, siblings, or in social settings.
- Physiological reactions to stress increase sickness.
- Psychological problems impact health and developmental growth.
- Higher cortisol levels (stress hormone) in kids in high conflict homes than kids in peaceful homes.
- Impact on academic development due to worry, inability to concentrate, depression, etc..
- From infancy to late adolescence the effect of constant fighting harms kids.
- Constant fighting is “indirect child abuse”.
What you can do about this one thing
#1: Acknowledge together that it is damaging your kids
This is the “come to Jesus” moment in your marriage that what you’re doing is causing severe harm to the children you love dearly. You need to have a sobering conversation taking mutual ownership.
No more finger-pointing. Identify how you specifically see your kids affected.
#2: Agree together to stop the pattern of constant fighting
Take action right away. Wave the white flag and agree to be civil.
Develop a few simple rules of engagement to keep conflict from getting out of control.
#3: Admit your faults to your kids and make yourselves accountable to address the problem
The “elephant in the room” is your constant fighting.
Own your fault by admitting to your kids that this constant fighting is wrong and that you plan to address it together.
Make yourselves accountable to the kids to do something about it.
#4: Accept responsibility for changing your behavior in front of your kids
This is time to be clear on what you vow to work on changing. Here’s a few examples to get you thinking.
“Going forward, I will watch my words and tone of my voice when I disagree with you in front of the kids.”
“I will stop criticizing you in front of the kids.”
Going forward, I will stop when you say ‘Let’s take a break.’”
“I will get help with anger management.”
#5: Ask for help
Don’t allow pride to get in your way. Knowing constant fighting causes indirect abuse to your kids, it is imperative you reach out for help.
Personal counseling can help with anger or stress management.
Marital counseling or coaching can help you develop communication and conflict-resolution skills.
Now it’s your turn
Is this one thing a problem in your family? Now that you know the impact, what will you do next?