We all know that even the happiest of married couples have their disputes, I know my husband and I have had our share over the years! But we need to keep in mind when we are having a fight with our significant other, we may also be doing so in front of the children, and kids most often are listening to every word we say. It has also been proven that kids that grow up in violent homes are more likely to become depressed, antisocial, and violent themselves. There is even new brain research that show that children who are exposed to high levels of family discord or experience physical abuse share a pattern of brain reactivity similar to that of soldiers in combat...so while your home may not be turbulent, even run-of-the-mill fights with your partner may be stressful for little ones to witness. When this stress is sufficiently severe, it is likely to have a measurable effect on their brain development (according to Eamon McCrory.Ph.D., coauthor of the study from the University College, London). So does this mean that we Botox all the emotion out of our face? Or hold it all in when your partner brings home unexpected dinner guests? No, you need to get it out, just do it the right way:
Let it out: Holding in anger and disappointment for the sake of the kids isn't always the best idea. According to Dana Dorfman, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and family counselor in New York City. "Kids will fill in the blanks of what you're not talking about and will let their imaginations run wild." It's best to address the issues right away before the silent treatment sets in, and kids will notice the "non-conversations" also!
Fight Fair: Your kids will face their share of their own disagreements with other children, so you need to think about your own arguments as teaching opportunities. Remember, you are their first and most important role models! Model appropriate behavior when you are "discussing" a situation; avoid demeaning words, express what you are feeling ("I feel frustrated when you.....") and always keep your hands to yourself. This shows children that they may have "fights" with other children or siblings, but being appropriate and honest about how you are feeling will show your children how to act when they encounter someone who may not agree with them also.
Follow up: This is also a time when you can teach your children that people can disagree and still remain connected to each other. "Disputes don't terminate relationships," says Dorfman. Talk to your children about it. Let them know that "Mommy and Daddy may fight sometimes, but we always love each other and we will work it out". So when you are fighting, be aware of what you are saying, things like "I hate you" or "I want you to leave" will cause children to worry and stress thinking mommy or daddy may not be there anymore.
Make Nice: If your children saw the fight, make sure they see you "making up". Apologies and hugging each other reassure your children that things are OK....and don't try a superficial apology, kids see right through that also. This is also a good teaching opportunity, that it's OK to admit if we were wrong and to tell the other person you are sorry.
We all know that when both parents are working, things can get very stressful, and many times we feel that our partner may not be "holding up their end". Sit down together and discuss when things are getting out of hand, or there just not enough hours in a day. Have a special night for the two of you to spend some time together, rather it is a weekly or monthly "date night", you need time to just be with each other. And when those "fights" do occur, remember their little eyes are probably watching. Take a look at their face, the concern and worry, and most often, what was so upsetting doesn't seem so important anymore.
Sue Junge is an Early Childhood Specialist for the Marshall County Early Childhood Iowa Area and is a Thursday columnist for the Times-Republican. The views expressed in this column are personal views of the writer and don't necessarily reflect the views of the T-R. For more information, please visit www.marshallempowerment.com.