Conflict is never fun. Most of us wish that we never had to experience it. Unfortunately, it is in the DNA of all relationships, at least of significant, worthwhile ones. And for some reason, working through conflict is the primary way that our relationships grow deeper and closer. Not sure why it has to work that way, but it does.
Conflict is scary for a lot of us. We fear getting hurt or hurting the other person. It also can be scary because we often don’t have any idea of what to do with it, or how to manage it. I’ve heard many people say that their parents never fought in front of them, and so they do not have any sort of model of what to do with conflict. They just often believe that they should actually do the same, and not fight in front of their kids.
Actually, having healthy conflict, having a fair fight, in front of your kids can be a good thing!
For one, it shows kids that conflict is normal. It is going to come up in their relationships and friendships, so its presence doesn’t mean that something is wrong. They don’t have to be so afraid of it.
Parents can give kids a live demonstration of what to do, how to approach another person, what kinds of things to say, how to say them in a way that make it easier for the other person to hear them, how to respond, how to apologize, and how to collaborate. That modeling is going to help kids learn skills that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.
Even when parents try to hide their conflict, kids can still sense the tension anyway. If it is not explained to them, kids will interpret the tension on their own, with their limited understanding and capabilities. They may often imagine the worst, and become afraid, anxious, or feel insecure or to blame.
Kids will understand the sensed tension, watch it be resolved, and recognize that it is normal and doesn’t mean that mom and dad are separating or that it was their fault. They can relax.
Their parents are having conflict and working through it, and thus are showing that they are not perfect. They are real and relate-able. They have made some mistakes, and so the kids are free to make mistakes too. Kids will get the message that it is okay to make a mistake, they are going to make mistakes, and this is how you fix it, resolve it, and make amends.
Of course, you don’t want to have just any kind of conflict in front of your kids. You want to have healthy conflict that can be instructive. In fact, that is a must! To make that happen, there are some helpful guidelines to follow. Stay posted for next week's blog: 5 guidelines on how to fight fair in front of your kids!
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” - Ephesians 4:29
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Willa Williams is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and serves at the Biola Center for Marriage and Relationships as a consulting therapist. She has been married for 30 years, and has two teenage children. Willa has a passion for healthy relationships, and enjoys working with couples as well as individuals. She has a Master of Arts in Religion from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL), and a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from Trinity International University (Deerfield, IL).