Even as an adult, witnessing a fight is distressing, even if you don’t know the people involved. So, just imagine how damaging it is for your kids to see their parents fighting…
In fact, you may not be aware that witnessing domestic violence (or being scared of it happening) is so damaging to a child’s mental and emotional well-being that it is legally considered to be a form of child abuse. Therefore, consider the following when you feel yourself about to boil over:
It’s a terrible image that will stay in their minds forever
Fighting with your partner (or soon to be ex) in front of the kids leaves the children with a negative picture of their parents. Whilst fighting is not uncommon even in a stable relationship, it is vital that the children are removed from the fray. Any and all arguments need to take place away from the children and preferably out of earshot as well.
Fighting in front of the kids makes it more difficult to present a ‘united front’
You children will be confused and insecure if they see that you don’t agree on things. Who are they meant to believe or trust? You will want to convey to the children that although you and your partner may not always agree, you’re able to have civilized discussions and reach an agreement which is everyone’s best interests.
It makes them feel unsafe
Children need to feel safe, secure, and protected. Fighting in front of the kids does nothing to promote a safe, secure environment. Many problems experienced by adolescents and adults stem from events which damaged their sense of safety and security early on in life. The more violent and heated the exchanges, the more likely lasting harm will result to the children’s psyche.
It makes you a lousy role model
Fighting in front of your children negatively impacts your children’s ‘ideal’ of you as a loving supportive person. One of the major goals of parenting is to provide your children with a positive role model. You want them to learn how to be a caring loving adult, with a healthy response to conflict. You also need to role model positive parenting too, lest your poor self-control leads to them doing the same with their own children one day. Fighting in front of the children sends them mixed messages about you as a parent.
It role models bad behaviors such as leveraging, threats, physical violence, cursing, name calling, and inappropriate content children don’t need to know. The negative behaviors which are displayed in a typical argument are not ones you want your kids to role play on the playground.
It exposes them to adult-rated content
Fighting in front of your children exposes them to ‘adult’ information about things like adultery, parental vices, and other information which you’d never choose to tell them before they’re the right age. It will also lead to unresolved questions and concerns on the part of the child, all of which can weaken or drive a wedge between you and them. During a heated argument, it’s very easy to throw ‘verbal daggers’ at each other which can’t be taken back, but which may ‘stick’ with your child for the rest of their life.
So what can you do to protect your kids?
Parenting was hard enough when your relationship was intact. Throw in your estrangement and the added stress of separation and divorce, and fighting is probably going to be a fairly regular occurrence for a while. Plus, let’s face it – fighting’s a part of life, and it’s unrealistic to shelter your children to the extent that they are totally naive to the fact that people don’t always agree.
- Make it private: One thing you can do is make a pact with your partner for all fighting to take place in private. Although this will be difficult and at times you may be unsuccessful, it’s worth giving this gift to your children as often as possible.
- Learn stress management techniques: This is a skill that you can also teach your kids. Learning how to manage anger in a healthy way is a tool that will benefit you in all areas of your life. There’s nothing wrong with anger – it’s often an entirely appropriate emotion – but it’s how you handle it that makes all the difference.
- Work with a divorce coach: Working with a divorce coach involves working one-on-one (rather than with you and your partner) and is a process of support and skills-building to help to you handle what’s going on much more effectively and with less wear and tear on everyone involved.
- Get the assistance of a professional mediator: Mediation involves a neutral person, trained in communication skills, sitting down with you and your partner to help you work through conflict. Mediation works because the neutral facilitator helps you both ‘fight fair’ by keeping the conversation on topic and not letting you get sidetracked by raising old ‘hot button’ topics, name-calling, or threats. Mediation is a process which can be learned, and can also work with disputes with children. The goal is to identify the areas of disagreement and then brainstorm solutions to amicably resolve the problem in a way which affords everyone respect and a chance to be heard.
Disputes are a natural part of life, and by agreeing with each other that you are going to use your disputes as a way to role model sensitive and intelligent dispute-resolution techniques, you can make even your divorce a loving time for your children.