Everyone’s heard that you “shouldn’t fight in front of the kids.” However, is this really sound advice? Without ever doing so, how do the kids learn how to resolve conflict. Parents always tell kids, “don’t fight with your brother” or “stop fighting with your sister.” Kids are told not to do it and parents don’t role model how to do it because they are only managing conflict behind closed doors.
Obviously, disagreements should only be handled in front of the children if you can do so in a civil manner. Threats of physical violence, name calling, yelling, and aggression can be traumatic for kids to witness. Any acts of domestic violence in front of children constitutes emotional abuse. So if your conflict crosses the line, make sure that you don’t expose your children to it.
However, healthy conflict resolution in front of the children can be a very positive thing. Take opportunities to show kids that disagreements can be resolved peacefully. Role model how to negotiate and how to share your feelings. This can help siblings learn how to get along better and can help kids learn how to resolve conflict with their peers. Kids can learn what to do when someone takes their favorite toy, calls them a name, or hurts their feelings by watching how you respond when you disagree, have had your rights infringed upon, or get your feelings hurt.
You can even practice negotiating in front of your children about easier topics just to role model these behaviors. For example, while riding in the car, talk about which restaurant you prefer to dine at. Have your spouse offer an opinion and then offer your choice of a different restaurant. Show how to negotiate and peacefully arrive at a decision you can both agree on. Sometimes, it makes sense to involve the children as well. Ask for their opinion about which restaurant they would like to eat at and then discuss as a family how to decide.
Find opportunities to model healthy problem solving and conflict resolution. Show how sometimes it makes sense to negotiate. Sometimes you might need to take a time out, and other times you are willing to compromise. It provides healthy life lessons for children that can be carried into their future relationships.