Growing up amidst fights and tension can make the rest of life a bleak picture. Family feuds prove to be the first reason for damage to children’s lives.
Smriti was a quiet child. Shy and reticent, she was one among those who could easily slip out of notice. There were times when she was found inattentive during class and score wise, she was not appreciated much. But one day, she fell into a fight with one of her batch mates and hurt him real bad. Every Parents-Teacher meet, her class teacher asked her parents if there was something wrong at home. They said nothing, thought she was just not focused enough and brushed off the fight as just another odd instance of rash behavior typical of young children.
Rightly so, focus and rash behavior were the issues. But there was a bigger issue behind them as well – the issue at her home.
Conflicts Are Unavoidable
Conflicts in daily life are normal. Our mutual differences lead us to disagree and argue with others on a range of matters. Likewise, marital fights or feuds with other people, related or not, in or outside home cannot always be avoided. “It is not the conflict that is important. It is how the conflict is expressed and resolved, and especially how it makes children feel that has important consequences for the children.”, says Developmental Psychologist E.Mark Cummings of Notre Dame University.
The Irreparable Damage
a) Damage to parents/elders
Fights lead to distraction and depression in parents. Parents Anger in one relationship will be a stimulus for anger and irritability in other close relationships. When parents argue with each other they are more likely to become:-
- Angry and irritating
- More controlling toward their children
- Less focused, patient and energetic
- More distanced from the children
- Grumpy and always in a bad mood
- Stressed and negative
b) Damage to children
It will be hard to believe, but the impacts on children are far more than those on parents/elders. So, the witnesses have more to lose than the actual participants.
- Fights induce low self-esteem and worries about an uncertain future in children.
- They worry about an uncertain future
- They become poorer at coping with stress and experience frustration, anxiety and depression.
- They feel less secure and more anxious.
- They start avoiding being home and spend more time with their friends.
- They even try using alcohol or drugs to keep from thinking about their quarrelling parents.
- Their school performance also suffers.
- They fear that one parent will leave the family to avoid the repetitive arguments. They also think friction with their parents is more personally threatening when they see their parents constantly fighting.
- Children from high conflict homes are more prone to anger and violence.
- They may use a high conflict style to resolve problems with their peers, siblings or later in life when they become parents themselves.
- If they feel helpless about their parents’ conflict, they may learn to ignoreor not examine the conflict. They distance themselves from it and emotionally shut down.
- They start taking sides and develop disrespect for either one of the parents or other elder members.
The worst and most destructive argument parents can have in front of their kids is when they fight about each other’s parenting skills. By arguing or undermining each other’s authority in front of the children, parents set the stage for manipulation and divided loyalties within the family
Normal Mode of Dealing
When fighting, parents/elders usually do two kinds of things:
1. Try to hide the fighting from children or
2. Let them see that they do become angry at each other and that is the way it is.
Both the approaches in exclusivity are harmful for the child. Even shielding children from every parental disagreement can lead a child to have an unrealistic view about how people deal with emotions, such as anger. It also gives them a false feeling of “no-argument” marriage which creates a utopian image of a marriage which does not let them have the capacity to deal with the situation in case it happens in their own marriage.
Be Emotionally Available
Parents are role models for children. Their expertise in constructively handling their conflicts and to resolve problems provides their children with real life training on managing conflicts within their own lives. If the child only experiences positive feelings with a parent, or only negative ones, the result is a skewed, strange and unreal view of emotional life.
The idea is to ensure that the child feels that the parents are emotionally available to him and that parent and child can exchange the full range of emotions. Even if parents argue a lot, if they are emotionally available to their children, there is unlikely to be a problem.
Parents must establish a pleasant atmosphere at home, refrain from indulging into repetitive arguments and should not carry the bitterness on display. They must let the child know that it is normal to have arguments and fighting does not mean they hate the other person.
A child needs to experience the full range of emotions in order to grow, as much as he/she needs good food. Just take care the mix of positive and negative is balanced.
Other Family Conflicts
The way we manage our conflicts with our parents, our friends, our siblings is a role modeling exercise our children learn from. Remember we are the defacto role models for our children. We can expect them to copy us and do exactly the way we are handling these conflicts in our lives. The only issue would be that we as parents may be at the receiving end of their ability to manage the conflicts.
In an earlier article (How to talk to teens so that they listen) we had talked about working it out together with children. The same process is replicable in resolving our conflicts with others in our lives including our spouses. Let’s do this to ensure we train our children in constructively expressing and managing their emotions.