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How to Manage Conflict When Your Children Are Present

Matthew Cuddeback, LCSW

Conflict in relationships is not inherently bad. In fact, it can be a very helpful way to gauge the health of your relationship. However, how you handle that conflict can have a profound effect on the people around you. Specifically, arguing in front of your children can be damaging and can result in lifelong difficulties. If you do inadvertently find yourself arguing in front of your children there are a few key ways to manage it that can result in more positive outcomes for your child’s development. Below are a few areas of interest about the effects of arguing in front of your children and how to manage these conflicts more effectively.

Effects of Arguing in Front of Your Children

When children see their parents argue, they take it in and try to make sense of what they are seeing and hearing. Unfortunately, when children see and hear these things, if not managed well it can lead to many emotional difficulties. Some of the more common effects are that your child may become anxious, hopeless, angry, or aggressive. It can also cause developmental issues such as difficulty paying attention and learning and can be as long lasting as problems forming healthy, balanced relationships with their peers and siblings. More severe cases of children witnessing parental conflict can lead to even more severe and long lasting outcomes such as impaired cognitive functioning, substance use, and self harm.

How to Disagree in A More Effective and Helpful Way

So, we will take a moment here and acknowledge that’s all very scary sounding. When we become parents these are the kinds of difficulties we have to navigate, and of course no parent is perfect. Fortunately, there is guidance for how to navigate these difficult areas. The most obvious way to ensure your children don’t experience these negative outcomes is of course, by not engaging in conflict in front of them. However, sometimes it does happen, conflict is not easy to predict and sometimes it happens in ways or at times we would prefer it does not. If that happens, here are a few key pieces about managing conflict in a more healthy way if your children are exposed to it.

  • How the conflict is expressed and resolved, and especially how it makes children feel has important consequences for children. If it is conducted in a peaceful, tempered way children can learn from it.
  • Seeing some conflicts can actually be good for children, it can help them see there is a healthy way to disagree.
  • Withdrawing or backing down can actually be problematic for your children to see as well. When this happens children have a difficult time contextualizing what happened and may feel unsure about how it ended or if it even did, leaving them with a lot of uncertainty.
  • Display an end to the conflict, you don’t have to agree, and pretending everything is fine rarely is effective with children, so come to an agreement that the conflict is resolved even if you didn’t come to an agreement you are both happy with.

Children are shown in many studies to be greatly affected by witnessing conflict between their parents, it can range from something small and easily corrected, or depending on the severity, it can result in enduring difficulties socially, emotionally, and even physically. So, when we know conflict is inevitable and we know that our children that see the conflict will likely assimilate that information in a way that will affect their development and personality, it becomes clear that we have a responsibility to navigate these situations in a healthy way. Of course, no couple is perfect, but if you work to argue more effectively, to communicate, avoid withdrawing, and agree to an end point or resolution this can actually help them to understand how to manage conflict. If you are struggling with arguing in front of your children or want to discuss how to avoid it, reach out to get an appointment with one of our therapists to discuss more.

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