5 guidelines on how to fight fair in front of your kids
Having healthy conflict, a fair fight, in front of your kids can actually be a good thing! It can be very helpful to them for many reasons (read last week's blog post: 5 reasons to fight in front of your kids). To make sure your healthy conflict is instructive for your kids, here are 5 guidelines to keep in mind:
1. First, pick your fights carefully.
You do not want to have a heavy, intense, hot button conflict in front of your children. Pick a conflict that is about something small and less significant, and about which you won’t get really worked up. Pick a conflict that will be relatively easy to resolve.
2. Make sure to fight fair and model helpful behavior.
Be sure to be respectful and kind to each other. Do not be disrespectful, critical, or contemptuous. Be sure to be descriptive when talking about your side of the issue – describe what you are thinking, feeling, needing, and wanting. Describe your experience of the situation, not what your spouse did wrong. Be sure to actively listen to your spouse describe his/her experience of the situation. Restate back to him/her in your own words what you heard to make sure there is a clear understanding. Validate your spouse’s experience of the situation. You can validate his/her experience even if you happen to disagree with him/her – that actually is how he/she thinks and feels. Compromise together to come up with a working solution.
3. If you do start a conflict in front of your kids, make sure you finish it in front of your kids.
If for some reason there are time constraints and you can’t finish it, then let the kids know that you and your spouse are going to come back to it later to finish up because you really care about each other, and really want to work things through. You can invite them to be part of that finishing process so that they can observe the resolution. Come back to it as quickly as possible. If you don’t, the danger is that you won’t, and it is helpful for kids to see a full resolution.
4. Celebrate resolution of the conflict together.
Once you have successfully worked through the conflict, then it is time for a big group hug, kids included! Verbally remind your spouse and your kids how much you love them, and that you are so thankful for them.
5. Process with your kids after resolution.
Touch base with your kids individually to see how they are feeling and what they are thinking. Talk with them about any questions or concerns they may have. Seize this as a teaching moment! Talk through what you were modeling to them. Point out how you were being descriptive and listening, and not being critical. Remind them that having conflict is inevitable, and that hopefully they saw a good way to manage it that they can use too.
Having a fair fight in front of your kids can be a wonderful teaching moment. It demonstrates a skill that will serve your kids for life! So, prepare, practice, and give it a try. Your kids may actually thank you for it!
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Willa Williams, MA, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She works at the Biola Counseling Center as a therapist and at the Biola Center for Marriage and Relationships as the Consulting Therapist. She has a Master of Arts in Religion from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL) and a Master of Arts in Counseling in Psychology from Trinity International University (Deerfield, IL). She is Level 3 Trained in the Gottman Method of Couples Therapy, a Certified Prepare/Enrich Facilitator, and graduate of the Couples Institute, Level 1. Before coming to Biola, she served overseas at the Spanish Bible Institute in Barcelona, Spain, where she taught a class on counseling skills for pastors and served as the staff therapist for the students. She has been married for more than 30 years and has two adult sons and two lovely daughters-in-love. She has a passion for healthy relationships and enjoys working with couples as well as individuals. She appreciates the immense impact that healthy marriages and relationships have on couples as well as future generations.